President Biden announced that his administration is expanding access to Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance exchanges to immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children, allowing participants in the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) to access government-funded health insurance programs.
Jamila Michener, associate professor of government and policy at Cornell University and co-director of the Cornell Center for Health Equity, says that this move by the Biden administration is an immense gain and ushers in a systemwide improvement.
Michener says: “The Biden administration is taking an important step to expand access to healthcare for DACA beneficiaries, and though the formal reach of this expansion is delimited—it will apply to ~580 thousand people—the benefits are resounding.
“Evidence indicates that coverage expansions like this improve health outcomes and help rectify the systematic exclusion of immigrants from our healthcare system—an exclusion that drives and exacerbates racial and economic health inequities.
“There are also broader benefits to the entire healthcare system. Having sizeable groups of people who live, work, go to school and make their home in the U.S. but cannot access vital health benefits is bad for everyone. It makes preventative care less accessible thus driving up the cost of emergency care. It proliferates sickness and vulnerability in ways that harm families, communities and local economies. No one wins when immigrants cannot readily access healthcare. The Biden administration is taking a step that recognizes and responds to this reality.
“By using DACA as the vehicle for this expansion, the Biden administration has also tethered its efforts to a program that is in legal limbo and no longer expanding. The future and sustainability of DACA is uncertain. To be clear, this healthcare expansion is no small thing—it is an immense gain to many people in many ways and it ushers in a systemwide improvement. At the same time, it also has clear limits given the status of DACA as a program.”
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