The Biden administration has approved a waiver that will let Washington state extend Obamacare coverage to immigrants who are in the country illegally.
The “innovation waiver” will kick in for 2024, allowing some of the state’s 105,000 uninsured immigrants without documentation to shop for insurance on Washington Healthplanfinder. It was approved by Health and Human Services and the Treasury Department late last week.
“Health care should be accessible, affordable and delivered equitably to all. We are pleased to approve Washington’s Section 1332 waiver to expanded coverage and access to qualified health plans,” said Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, administrator at the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
Officials acknowledged the waiver’s groundbreaking nature, which challenges Obamacare’s bar on immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally being able to access plans on the state-based health exchanges.
Republicans blasted the change.
“This waiver is a blatant misuse of taxpayer dollars, and Administrator Brooks-LaSure should have rejected it,” said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Washington Republican and the GOP’s top lawmaker on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Washington officials said that while the immigrants will have access to the Obamacare marketplace to shop for plans, they will not be able to get federal tax subsidies. They will, however, qualify for state subsidies.
The state submitted its waiver this spring.
It said the waiver request had broad support from its health care industry, saying that immigrants who are in the country illegally deserved care without having to resort to emergency rooms.
Both health and dental plans would now be covered.
“Access to health care not only helps strengthen families, it also improves our overall health care system and our state economy,” said Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat.
The state has allocated $5 million to subsidize coverage for immigrants who are in the country illegally starting next year. That’s on top of the $50 million it allocated for legal residents beginning this year.
When Obamacare was being written, immigrant rights advocates pleaded for the immigrants to have access, even if they had to pay their own way. Democrats on Capitol Hill, who wrote the bill, figured that was a step too far.
Over the ensuing years, though, Democrats’ embrace of immigrants without documentation has grown, and Democratic-led states are increasingly spending their taxpayers’ money to extend benefits to the unauthorized population.
Still, Washington acknowledged it was breaking new ground with the waiver.
Colorado also subsidizes health coverage for immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally but does so outside of Obamacare’s exchanges.
• Stephen Dinan can be reached at email@example.com.
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