With tens of thousands of "lucky" Syrian immigrants due to arrive on American shores, it appears these hope-full refugeese may face life in the US is not as 'free' as they hoped. As AP reports, new government procedures have caused more than 400,000 current immigrants to lose healthcare coverage they received under Obamacare this year. The change in procedure shortens the timeframe during which foreign-born citizens can resolve eligibility issues, which has caused 423,000 people to lose their state-sponsored benefits - more than four times more than last year.
As AP reports, the number of coverage terminations could actually be higher. The 423,000 figure only represents states served by the federal health insurance market. That does not include immigrant-rich California and New York, which run their own insurance exchanges.
The Obama administration says it is following the letter of the law, and this year that means a shorter time frame for resolving immigration and citizenship issues. But advocates say the administration's system for verifying eligibility is seriously flawed, and consumers who are legally entitled to benefits are paying the price.
"Same dog, different collar," said Jane Delgado, president of the National Alliance for Hispanic Health, evoking an old Spanish saying about situations that do not seem to change. "The bottom line is people got taken off health insurance when they applied in good faith."
The National Immigration Law Center says it believes the overwhelming majority of the 423,000 people whose coverage was terminated are legal U.S. residents and citizens snared in a complicated, inefficient system for checking documents.
Angel Padilla, the center's health policy analyst, said it defies common sense that that many immigrants without legal authorization to be in the country would risk alerting a federal agency by applying for taxpayer-subsidized benefits.
"Somebody who is trying to submit documents over and over ... is someone who believes they have an eligible immigration status," Padilla said. By comparison, a total of 109,000 people lost coverage because of citizenship and immigration issues during all of 2014.
President Barack Obama's health care law specifies that only citizens and legal U.S. residents are entitled to coverage through the new insurance markets that offer subsidized policies. The administration says this year the law provides just a 95-day window for resolving documentation issues that involve citizenship and immigration. There was no such clock in 2014 because it was the first year of HealthCare.gov's coverage expansion.
Last year, "we had the authority to provide consumers more flexibility — we were not taking action on the strict timeline," said Ben Wakana, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services. "In 2015, we moved to the timeline of about three months, so consumers need to act quickly to submit supporting documentation."
Does this then mean that in one swoop, the Democrats just lost 400,000 potential voters and the 'boomerang' of Syrian refugees suddenly saw their window of free healthcare opportunity shrink dramatically?