Health bills fail to block illegals from coverage

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Of those who work on the books, about 2.3 million already have insurance through their employers. That leaves at least 1 million who would need insurance and could obtain it from an employer under the proposed mandates.

“It’s definitely significant,” Mr. Camarota said.

Democrats said their bill doesn’t change eligibility for benefits for illegal immigrants but it does change laws on who must provide insurance. Any employer with a payroll higher than $500,000 would be required to provide insurance for employees.

The House bill offers tax credits for two years to help small businesses provide insurance, including businesses that hire illegal immigrants.

But Mr. Elshami said businesses are already prohibited from hiring of illegal immigrants.

The Senate bill is more complex. It would urge companies to provide insurance, then penalize them for each employee who applies for credits for the health care exchange.

Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said the bill includes a screening process to keep illegal immigrants from getting credits in the health care exchange. But even illegal immigrants would be counted in the penalty against employers, so companies would be paying for having hired them.

“In this scenario, an employer would have to provide a responsibility payment for an undocumented worker. But that undocumented worker wouldn’t be getting coverage through the exchange,” Mr. Manley said.

Robert Rector, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, called the debate “an absolute charade” because Mr. Obama and Democratic leaders have signaled their intent to try to pass a bill legalizing illegal immigrants next year.

Once their legal status is secured, Congress would have to decide their eligibility for public benefits. Democrats have been pushing for broad inclusion, and their health care proposals give equal treatment to legal immigrants and citizens.

Republicans say the government should do more to push for a legal work force in the first place.

“If it was not bad enough that illegal immigrants take jobs that rightfully belong to citizens and legal immigrants, now they will get health care benefits that should go to Americans,” said Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee. “If they were not in the country, we wouldn’t have to worry about emergency room or health insurance costs at all. And Americans would have these jobs.”

A Congressional Research Service report notes that the House Democrats’ bill does not expressly prohibit illegal immigrants from getting health insurance and, in fact, would mandate that they obtain insurance if they meet the “substantial presence test.”

That test calculates U.S. residency based on the number of days per year a person is in the country.

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