President Joe Biden Says He’s Expanding Migrants’ Health Care Access

President Joe Biden announced on Thursday that hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children will be able to apply for the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid health exchanges.

The action will allow participants in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, from the Obama era to access government-funded health insurance payments. 

“They’re American in every way except on paper,” said Biden in a video posted on his Twitter page. “We need to give Dreamers the opportunities and support they deserve.”

The new action will likely create significant pushback among leaders from conservative states who have been critical of the Biden administration’s response to migrants who entered the United States illegally and have been reluctant to expand Medicaid. 

While the federal government provides guidelines and funding for Medicaid, the state administers the program. 

Former President Barack Obama launched the DACA initiative in 2012

In 2012, then-President Obama launched the DACA initiative to shield immigrants brought to the United States illegally by their parents and allow them to work legally in the country. 

However, the immigrants, known as “Dreamers,” remain ineligible for government-funded health insurance programs because they don’t meet the definition of having a “lawful presence.” The Biden Department of Health and Human Services will aim to change it by the end of the month.

The action by the White House comes as the DACA program is in legal peril and the number of eligible people is shrinking. 

According to estimates, 580,000 people were still enrolled in DACA by the end of last year according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The number is lower than in previous years, although court orders currently prevent the U.S. Department of Homeland Security from processing any new applications. The program has been buried in legal challenges for years, as Congress has not agreed on broader immigration reforms. 

DACA recipients can legally work and are required to pay taxes but do not have full legal status and are denied other benefits, including access to federally funded health insurance, available to U.S. citizens. 

However, immigrants living in the United States who don’t have documentation are more likely not to have health insurance. Over a third of DACA recipients are estimated to be without health care coverage, according to the HHS. Around half of the estimated 20 million immigrants living undocumented in the U.S. are uninsured, according to research from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

While there is bipartisan support to put some protections in place for immigrants, negotiations have frequently broken down during debates about border security and whether extending protections could induce others to attempt to enter the U.S. without permission. President Biden has often touted expanding pathways to citizenship for immigrants who entered the United States legally as children.

Other immigrant classes — including people with temporary protected status and asylum seekers — are already eligible to buy insurance through the ACA marketplaces, also called Obamacare.

Congress will need to reach a bipartisan agreement for changes to be made.