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HomeinsuranceDACA recipients get health care, but what about their status?

DACA recipients get health care, but what about their status?

The Biden administration recently moved to allow immigrants protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to enroll in the subsidized health insurance marketplace under the Affordable Care Act. The move is largely symbolic given that only a fraction of DACA recipients will qualify.
What we would like to see happen is for Congress to give DACA recipients, who arrived in this country as children, a pathway to citizenship and legal status so that they can stop living in limbo. But given Congress’ inaction, the Biden White House is being pragmatic in making health care more accessible to this small population of immigrants.
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There are roughly 570,000 DACA recipients, down from a peak of 700,000 participants. A majority of them get insurance through their employers. The Biden administration estimates that about 100,000 people would actually sign up for the ACA.
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With the number of DACA recipients dwindling, access to the ACA marketplace will have a minimal impact on the federal budget. Officials expect this move could result in about $300 million in additional federal yearly expenses.
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The policy change, however, is a temporary fix to a long-standing problem that has been mired in the courts because lawmakers refuse to pass a permanent solution.
Created by the Obama administration through an executive order, DACA protects from deportation a group of immigrants who were brought here illegally as children during a particular window of time. This temporary protection allows these immigrants to live and work legally in the U.S., but the program has faced legal hurdles since its launch in 2012.
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In the latest decision last year, U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen ruled that DACA is unlawful, allowing only current DACA enrollees to renew their status and blocking would-be first-time applicants. His ruling reiterated a previous court decision from 2021.
The fate of DACA recipients is now in the hands of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. All the while, Congress has let the program linger without a legal framework despite opportunities to resolve the uncertain status of this population.
While the Biden administration is right to offer ACA coverage to DACA recipients, it got into wobbly territory in our view when officials announced this change by arguing that health care is a right.
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“The Biden-Harris administration believes health care is a right, not a privilege, and that extends to DACA recipients who have built their lives in the United States,” said Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure in a statement.
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Providing DACA recipients access to health care subsidies is not very costly, relative to the size of the federal budget, but declaring that something is a right is complicated. Health care as a right implies there is a societal duty to provide it, like the right to vote or the right to a fair trial.
The declaration of the Biden administration raises the question of how the government would provide health care for free to everyone.
Reducing barriers for DACA recipients to access health care is a practical matter that helps immigrants who are in legal limbo through no fault of their own while reducing the financial burden on health care providers who care for the under- and uninsured. For these immigrants, however, living in this state of uncertainty with no end in sight is unsustainable.
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