Dodd Says Illegal Aliens Won’t be Eligible for Health Subsidies Even if Legalized and Put on ‘Pathway to Citizenship’; Other Senators Disagree

By Matt Cover | September 16, 2009 | 7:49 PM EDT

Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) (AP Photo)

( - Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) told that illegal immigrants would not be eligible for federal health insurance subsidies even if Congress enacts comprehensive immigration reform that puts them on a “pathway to citizenship.” asked Dodd and other senators whether people who are currently illegal aliens in the United States would become eligible for health insurance subsidies under the proposed health-care reform plan if they were made into legal residents and put on a pathway to citizenship by an immigration reform bill.

Dodd, who as acting chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee oversaw the drafting of one version of the legislation, said illegal aliens would not be eligible even if they were legalized and put on a pathway to citizenship.
Dodd said that while he had not read the other Senate proposal, being crafted by Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), his proposal would not have such a result.

“Not as I understand it, under the bill,” Dodd said.

“It’s not [true] under the one we did in the HELP Committee and I don’t believe it’s under Max’s bill,” said Dodd. “[So] I don’t believe so, no.”

Both the House and Senate versions of health care reform legislation restrict the availability of federal health insurance subsidies to U.S. citizens and legal residents. Comprehensive immigration reform would convert illegal immigrants into legal immigrants who would be permanent legal residents of the United States with an opportunity to be naturalized as U.S. citizens.

Under the health care bill crafted under Dodd’s supervision, an “eligible individual” is defined as “a citizen or national of the United States or an alien lawfully admitted to the United States for permanent residence or an alien lawfully present in the United States.”

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) took the opposite view of Sen. Dodd. He said that immigration reform would make illegal immigrants into legal residents, thereby making them eligible for federal health insurance subsidies under the health care reform plan.

“Legal aliens will be [eligible], illegal [aliens] won’t,” Coburn told “So if they become legal aliens, yes.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) explained that not only would today’s illegal aliens be eligible for federal health insurance subsides if both health care reform and immigration reform passes, but that they would be required to carry health insurance.
“Part of legal status [is] you would be required to learn English, pay a fine for your transgression, and have health care and pay into a system,” Graham said.

Graham said that, in fact, illegal immigrants wouldn’t be allowed to become legal and remain in the country if they failed to pay into the health care system.

“You couldn’t stay here unless you are able to have a job and pay into health care,” he said. “They would be required to have health care--through their employer or individually--but you’d have to have a job to stay here.”
Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) said that “yes” current illegal immigrants would get federal subsidies if comprehensive immigration reform is passed, adding that he supports a pathway to legalization, but not citizenship.
“Yes,” Gregg said. “[But] I don’t support a pathway to citizenship for illegals. I support a pathway to making them legal, not citizens.”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)—a leading proponent of comprehensive reform--said that he didn’t know whether immigration reform might grant illegal aliens access to federal health subsidies.
McCain, who as the GOP presidential nominee in 2008 supported border security as a prerequisite for immigration reform, explained that the question was difficult to answer because there wasn’t a final version of immigration reform.
“I don’t know,” McCain said, “because we have no specific proposal on immigration reform.”
Other senior Democrats echoed McCain, saying that the answer depended on the text of immigration reform legislation.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.)--one of the “Gang of Six” senators working with Baucus on his version of health reform--said that he didn’t know and would have to read any immigration legislation to get a better idea.
“I’m going to have to look at the language,” Wyden responded. “I’m going to have to look at the language.”
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said that any determination of whether illegal immigrants might get health subsidies because of immigration reform would have to be made by the Justice Department.
“Oh, I could never, you’d have to ask the Justice Department.”
Boxer immediately began walking away, loudly saying: “No illegal immigrants will get health care, none. No illegal immigrants.”