June 25, 2018; NBC News
The United States has about 10 million children who are US citizens but have at least one undocumented parent. These families are afraid to apply for Medicaid, a service that was in some ways created to help them.
On July 30, 2018, Medicare and Medicaid will turn 53 years old. The programs were created in response to an American population with too many people who lacked access to health care—particularly the elderly. From the beginning, the plan was meant to combine the best models of health care, insurance, and the economics of health to provide care for those who could not afford it. President Lyndon Johnson signed them into law in 1965; President Harry Truman was the first person to enroll, an honor given to him for his efforts to get a similar measure passed in the 1940s.
It appears to current applicants that the US government is brushing aside the “care” in Medicare and “aid” in Medicaid, subverting the programs into a deterrent, a tool to reveal parents who lack the documents to permit them to live in the US permanently. Even parents who have full-time jobs and have permanent residency applications pending are rejecting resources because they fear use of assistance programs like healthcare and SNAP will count against them. This proposed caveat to the green card process has not been approved, but the fear is at ground level already.
Maria Hernandez founded a small Austin nonprofit, VELA, in 2010 (income of $170,000). VELA supports children with disabilities, and Hernandez teaches parents to advocate for their children in their communities. She shows them how to find health care and therapy services. Seven out of 10 of the families who come to VELA are immigrants, the majority from Mexico. Although the children are born here and are thus US citizens, Hernandez says that parents fear drawing attention to themselves when advocating for their children. “We are seeing families having to make this impossible choice,” Hernandez says. As is true in much of the country, Central Texas has seen an increase in immigration raids and deportations in the past year.
According to Anne Dunkelberg, who is with Austin’s nonprofit Center for Public Policy Priorities (CPPP), Texas already houses the highest number of people without health insurance, and once you add families who are dropping Medicaid in fear, even more individuals will be using hospital emergency rooms. The emergency rooms will only hold a child until the child is stable; at that time, they release him or her. And emergency rooms also cost taxpayers more than conventional care through Medicaid.
The CPPP, founded in 1999, “is an independent public policy organization that uses data and analysis to advocate for solutions that enable Texans of all backgrounds to reach their full potential.” It is much harder to reach that full potential without health care, especially for children with disabilities. It is not just worry over who will care for the children if the parent is deported that is behind the Medicaid drop-off; it’s also the loss of someone who can advocate for them fiercely and vehemently.
“It’s out of fear of deportation,” Dunkelberg said. “It’s out of fear of having their children being penalized in some way and potentially losing a parent that until this point has been their fierce advocate.”
She added, “We know that that is not a good plan for kids that for forever have been followed by a neurologist because they have seizures, or have been going to occupational therapy for years, and are finally making progress.”
Also, ceasing to fill out new applications does not erase previous records from the system. How far will the government go in using a healthcare program as a tool to causes harm? This administration has turned its back on the presidents who laid the groundwork for helping people by providing healthcare, like Truman and Johnson, and become a government absent of compassion.—Marian Conway