Immigration Reform Revisted

Tomorrow evening President Obama is to unveil his plan to grant millions of undocumented immigrants a form of legal status by executive action.

As reported in two articles today, one in Health Affairs blog, and the other in The New York Times, access to health care will not be a part of the President’s plan.

In “The Case For Advancing Access to Health Coverage And Care For Immigrant Women and Families”, Kinsey Hasstedt said that a web of policy barriers to public and private insurance options effectively keeps millions of immigrant women and their families from affordable coverage and the basic health care, including sexual and reproductive health services that coverage makes possible.

Of course, this sounds all too familiar to anyone who has read my articles in the past about immigration reform, medical tourism/travel, and its implementation into workers’ comp.

Ms. Hasstedt also said that many lawful immigrants are ineligible for coverage through Medicaid and CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program) during their first five years of legal residency. And as reported in today’s New York Times, undocumented immigrants are barred from public coverage, and the ACA prohibits them from purchasing any coverage, subsidized or not, through the exchanges.

In The New York Times article, Obama’s Executive Order on Immigration Is Unlikely to Include Health Benefits, the president will use his executive authority to provide work permits for up to five million people who are in the US illegally, and shield them from deportation. But his order will not allow them to be eligible for subsidized, low-cost plans from the government’s health insurance marketplace.

Ms. Hasstedt noted in her article that past immigration policy reforms, both executive (something the GOP forgot about because it was Saint Ronnie who did it) and congressional have failed to address the health care needs of immigrants.

I know there are many in the immigrant community, and among their supporters in the rest of the country who applaud the President for taking this long-overdue action due to the inaction of a Congress more in tune with the sentiments of those who like wearing white sheets, than a party whose last occupant of the White House preached “Compassionate Conservatism”.

And there are many within the Insurance and Risk Management and Workers’ Comp industry who downplay the impact immigration reform and the granting legal status to undocumented workers will have on the number of claims filed under workers’ comp.

But as I said in many previous posts, there is no way that workers’ comp can handle all of the claims that will be filed not only by legal residents, but by immigrants and those who are granted legal work status, as the President will do tomorrow night.

The medical tourism/travel industry is not perfect. Name me one industry that is. But the reality is that I have found, having attended three different conferences in the span of two years , that there are highly professional and dedicated people out there, physicians, hospitals and clinics who not only are seeking patients for private pay or group health insurance, but would probably consider taking on patients under workers’ comp, especially in the areas of orthopedic surgeries from work-related accidents, repetitive motion injuries such as Carpal Tunnel, and even weight-loss surgery, as I mentioned in my last post.

So while many in the industry are gambling in Las Vegas this week, which as the commercial says is where their money is going to stay, and where many Hispanics once called home before we showed up, it is high time to seriously consider medical tourism/travel as an option.

The influx of immigrants, and the soon-to-be announced legal status of the undocumented will put a terrible strain on an already strained health care system. It’s time to open the safety valve and let injured workers, many of them Latino, receive care in their home countries and in neighboring countries so that there are no language or cultural barriers to contend with.

Opening up a safety valve and immigration is nothing new. It’s how millions of Europeans came to America in the 19th and 20th centuries. I would not be here writing this today if my grandparents could not use the safety valve of immigration to escape what would have been a terrible fate. Thousands of Irish would have starved if they could not immigrate to the US and other countries. And millions of Chinese would have died in labor camps, famines and revolutions in the early 20th century.

But so long as the US workers’ comp system is locked away in a “padded cell”, the increased number of legal and undocumented workers with legal work status will add more demand on an already overburdened health care system.

The choice is yours. You can go with the flow of history, or stay in Las Vegas and party your way to irrelevance.

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