COMPREHENSIVE IMMIGRATION REFORM ACT OF 2007 -- (Senate - June 05, 2007)
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Mr. DeMINT. Mr. President, I rise today to highlight one of the most important domestic issues this country is facing, and that is rising health care costs. I think it is also important to point out that nearly 10 million noncitizens are uninsured according to the September 2006 U.S. Census report on the uninsured.
Since no hospital can legally deny a person health care because of their immigration status or inability to pay, my amendment would help prevent that cost from being shifted to the American taxpayers in the form of uncompensated care. Since about three-fourths of all uncompensated care costs are paid by taxpayers in the form of national and State programs, it is imperative the Senate pass my amendment that would require Z visa holders to maintain a minimum level of private health coverage.
Under this amendment, minimum health coverage would be defined as a high-deductible health care plan. It is my firm belief these visa holders should take some responsibility for their own health care and avoid burdening American taxpayers when they have medical problems.
By requiring Z visa holders to have a minimum level of private health insurance, it will help keep individuals off public assistance and out of the emergency rooms. According to the Economic Research Initiative of the Uninsured, immigrants as a group are nearly three times more likely to be uninsured than native-born U.S. citizens.
I am almost certain some of my colleagues will say it is not possible for these visa holders to afford a private health insurance plan. In fact, there are plenty of high-deductible policies available on the individual market that are affordable, with an average cost of about $116 a month. Furthermore, these plans have seen only a 2.8-percent increase on an annual basis compared to 8 percent for all other types of health plans. This low rate of increase is another reason high-deductible health plans are affordable to those with lower incomes.
It is also important to point out that by having their own high-deductible health plans, visa holders will be able to keep their policy regardless of their employer. Many employers who want less expensive labor will likely help their employees pay for these high-deductible policies.
Mr. President, it is also important to point out that there is a precedent for this type of action. In 1993, the Department of State issued regulations requiring students entering the United States under exchange visas to have health coverage. This amendment would only extend this policy to Z visa holders.
What is most troubling to me is that this legislation before us does almost nothing to stem the rising costs of uncompensated care. If we do not pass my amendment, the growing cost of uncompensated care currently at $41 billion per year will only be exacerbated.
Supporters of this bill will point to the State Impact Assistant Grant Program that is established in the legislation. This grant program would be funded through fees paid by the immigrant, and it would be administered by the Federal Government to repay States for health and education expenses.
However, even the bill language suggests, through a sense of the Congress, that this will not be enough to solve the problem of illegal immigrants using our health care services at a cost to the American taxpayer.
Our country is spending $2 trillion per year on health care. While my amendment does not address the entire problem, it does address the problem of noncitizens using our resources at a cost to the American taxpayer. In my opinion, there are many problems with this legislation. But I believe this amendment will at least improve upon this extremely flawed bill.
I yield the floor.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Massachusetts.
Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, if I can have the attention of the Senator from South Carolina.
His amendment will maintain a minimum level of health coverage through a qualified health plan in the meaning of 223(C) of the Internal Revenue Code. Is that right?
Mr. DeMINT. Right.
Mr. KENNEDY. That is the health savings accounts?
Mr. DeMINT. Generally, high-deductible plans are accompanied by the health savings account.
Mr. KENNEDY. So if they had other kinds of health coverage at all, they still would not be--unless they have this particular coverage, the high deductible, they would not be able to make--adjust their status.
Mr. DeMINT. This is the minimum level as established by the high-deductible policies. Certainly, more comprehensive plans would fit in the context of the amendment.
Mr. KENNEDY. Is the Senator aware now that the undocumented or aliens are not eligible for any of the Medicaid proposals at the present time?
Mr. DeMINT. For the first 5 years, that is correct. But that does not mean they cannot access any of our health clinics, emergency room services, and a lot of uncompensated care can be directed at the current group of illegal immigrants in our country.
Mr. KENNEDY. Why did the Senator select just this particular health coverage rather than being able to participate in HMOs or other kinds of programs?
Mr. DeMINT. Well, we are establishing a minimum level, which the minimum would be the high-deductible policies, often accompanied by health savings accounts. This does not prevent an immigrant from having a more comprehensive plan, an HMO. But the point of the amendment is not to mandate a comprehensive plan but to establish a minimum level of coverage, which is more affordable particularly to low-waged workers.
Mr. KENNEDY. What is the estimate that the Senator has for this coverage? What is the estimate that they would have to pay out for this coverage?
Mr. DeMINT. The average of high-deductible plans is $116 a month. I will just say as an aside, I just bought a high-deductible plan for my 22-year-old daughter at $65 a month. This, obviously, leaves some to be paid by the workers themselves. But it avoids the high-risk cost of a worker who may have complicated, very expensive problems, for that whole bill to land on a hospital, which often happens.
Mr. KENNEDY. If there are preexisting conditions--how does this amendment affect preexisting conditions?
Mr. DeMINT. Well, we do not specify. It may be something we want to cover in an additional amendment. But many States, as you know, now have high-risk pools which are available to all workers in the State regardless of immigration status.
This certainly may not cover every possible problem. But if we are going to issue Z visas, I think the point is that they become an asset to our economic environment in this country, and certainly if they are uninsurable that may suggest that they are not a viable worker as well.
Mr. KENNEDY. Well, we have 47 million Americans who don't have coverage at the present time. But you want to insist that anyone, these undocumented are going to be mandated individual coverage in order to be able to adjust their status?
Mr. DeMINT. Obviously, the uninsured are a problem, and many of us are working on ways to solve that. It is one thing to ask American taxpayers to help take care of their fellow citizens. It is another thing to ask Americans to help assist those from all over the world. Certainly, our hearts go out to anyone with health problems, but we cannot ask the American taxpayer to subsidize low-wage workers for employers who are using them in this country.
Mr. KENNEDY. Of course, CBO studies which have been released in the last few days show that immigrant workers contribute much more in terms of taxes than they use in terms of services by about $24 billion over the estimate of the length of this plan.
Mr. DeMINT. There is obviously a lot of research that refutes that. The Heritage Foundation has come out with quite an extensive study that suggests the low-wage workers, undereducated immigrants in this country today, cost an average of $19,000 a year more in taxes than they pay. This group, as a whole, over the next three decades will cost $2.4 trillion to the American taxpayer. So there is a lot of research that suggests that undereducated, low-skilled workers are going to be a net loss to the American taxpayer.
Mr. KENNEDY. I have heard studies quoted. Generally, around here we use Congressional Budget Office figures for actions in the State. They reach a rather dramatically different conclusion than the studies the Senator has mentioned.
Mr. DeMINT. Certainly, the Senator will agree it should not be the obligation of the American taxpayer to subsidize low-wage workers for employers. Frankly, I believe if we ask these immigrants to pay their fair share, employers are more likely to hire American workers in the first place rather than lower wage workers who are actually being subsidized by the taxpayer. This health plan is one idea to ask these immigrants and their employers to carry the fair load and not to dump the cost of health care on other workers in this country.
Mr. KENNEDY. Of course, the workers themselves have to contribute $550 as part of their cost anyway, their contribution to the State. In terms of consideration of covering any of the costs, that was sort of put into the legislation itself, in terms of the additional fees and additional fines as well, that addition to help offset any of the expenses that would be carried in the State itself.
Mr. DeMINT. I think the Senator obviously knows--and the bill language suggests--this is a small token of what the real costs are, not only for health care but education, daycare, and other services that are often used by these immigrants. Again, to ask these immigrants or their employers if they would like to assist in paying $100 or a little more a month to keep them from becoming a burden to the taxpayers is a small thing to ask for someone who is taking advantage of the opportunities in this country.
Mr. KENNEDY. It is important to get health care and health care coverage for all who do not have it. The real issue is the best way to pursue that. That is something we have to take a look at.
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