Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

By:  Lindsey Graham
Date: July 19, 2004
Location: Washington DC

CONGRESSIONAL RECORD
SENATE
STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS

By Mr. GRAHAM of Florida:

S. 2685. A bill to amend titles XIX and XXI of the Social Security Act to provide States with the option to cover certain legal immigrants under the Medicaid and State children's health insurance programs; to the Committee on Finance.

Mr. GRAHAM. Mr. President, I am introducing the Immigrant Children's Health Improvement Act today.

This legislation would allow States the option to once again provide Medicaid and State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) coverage to legal immigrant children and pregnant women.

Traditionally, Medicaid and SCHIP have served as vital components of our nation's health care safety net. These programs have provided coverage to over 50 million non-elderly, low-income Americans, most of them children, and have helped to dramatically reduce infant mortality and provide health care for millions of poor children whose families cannot afford the high cost of private health insurance.

However, for many low-income families that are income eligible for Medicaid and SCHIP, these safety programs are today little more than a mirage-an illusion to those who need them most. The 1996 welfare reform law arbitrarily barred states from using Federal funds to provide health coverage to low-income legal immigrants during their first 5 years in the United States.

While the goal of welfare reform was to encourage self-sufficiency in adults, the legislation unfortunately has punished children. Today, half of all legal immigrant children from families making less than 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level are uninsured. That's over two and a half times the uninsured rate for children who are United States citizens.

In the long term, ignoring the health care needs of legal immigrant children and pregnant women will prove more costly than providing care today. Children and pregnant women who do not have access to preventive care often use the emergency room as a first resort-an expensive treatment for conditions that could have been treated at a fraction of the cost or possibly even prevented.

The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology in 2000 estimated that $1 spent on prenatal care for immigrant women saved $3 in short-term postnatal costs and $5 in longer-term costs. By spending on prevention today, we can reduce health care costs in the future.

Another result of the 1996 legislation was to push the costs of care to the States. The 20 states with the highest number of legal immigrants all used to have state-financed health care programs for legal immigrant children or pregnant women. States put these programs in place because they recognized the enormous toll the 1996 rules have taken on state budgets, when states have to provide preventable emergency-room care to thousands of uninsured legal immigrants.

But due to the recent State budget crisis, some of these states cannot now afford programs that are exclusively state-financed. In my home state of Florida, for example, new enrollment in the program has been frozen.

This amendment allows states the option to use Medicaid and SCHIP funding to cover legal immigrant children and pregnant women. Over the last 6 years, Senator CHAFEE and I, along with our colleagues in the House and Senate, have worked to restore this option and we've come very close to achieving our goal.

Last year, a 3-year restoration provision was included in the Senate-passed Medicare prescription drug bill, with 65 Members supporting it. Over 400 national, state, and local organizations have supported this legislation, including the National Governors Association, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and numerous immigrant, ethnic, labor, health and faith-based organizations.

Despite this support, Congress has yet to enact legislation that restores health benefits to legal immigrant families.

Why?

Some Members argued it didn't belong on a Medicare bill but instead on a welfare reauthorization bill. That was one of the reasons it was dropped from the Medicare bill. But the same argument has been made when it was discussed in the context of welfare-that it is not a welfare issue, it's a health care issue.

Well, while this volleyball match continues, legal immigrant families in this country continue to work hard and pay taxes, while being denied the benefits of the system they are paying into. Meanwhile, States continue to provide as much care as they can from strapped state budgets. We need to send a clear message about our concern for uninsured children and we need to stop pretending that our federal penny-pinching is cost free to the states or to taxpayers.

Mr. President, legal immigrants pay taxes, serve in the military, and have the same social obligations as United States citizens. Legal immigrant children are, as much as citizen children, the next generation of Americans. It is important that all children start off on the right foot towards good health. This provision can help them do just that.

This legislation is offset by a custom user fee extension included in the President's budget.

I hope that we will begin consideration of this important measure before the August recess. The health and lives of many children is at stake, and there is simply no reason to delay any further.