Weeks after passage of a historic health bill, Hispanic advocacy groups say the sweeping new law will generally bring much-needed benefits to Hispanics and businesses across America.
Those same groups, however, are raising concerns about how the health care reform bill will affect illegal immigrants who currently have coverage.
While it's been widely reported that illegal immigrants are left out of the newly signed health law, less talked about is how the new law could actually make things worse for insured illegal immigrants -- as opposed to merely maintaining the status quo.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will bring coverage to 32 million of the current 45 million uninsured Americans and cost roughly $850 billion over 10 years. But it could also cause many illegal immigrants to lose the coverage they have. And the number of illegal immigrants with coverage is surprisingly large.
The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that roughly 40 percent of the 11 million or so illegal immigrants residing in this country are insured, either because they purchased health coverage themselves or received it through their employers. The U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce puts the estimate even higher.
"I don't think many people know that approximately 50 percent purchase coverage," Javier Palomarez, president and CEO of the chamber, told Hispanic Business magazine. "These folks are in jeopardy of losing what little coverage they have."
The bill that was signed into law March 30 not only prohibits illegal immigrants from receiving federal subsidies, it also -- to the chagrin of immigration-rights advocates -- bars them from purchasing insurance with their own money on the soon-to-be created statewide exchanges that will pool ratepayers to lower premiums.
To be sure, under the new law, illegal immigrants still will be able to purchase coverage out of pocket. It's just that, because their plans will be excluded from the exchanges, they could see the cost of their premiums skyrocket out of reach.
This is because the creation of the new exchanges could have the effect of draining current risk pools of almost everyone except the illegal immigrants, said Jennifer Ng'andu, deputy director for health policy project with the National Council of La Raza.
"I think you could say on some level that undocumented immigrants (with coverage) are the ones who will be worse off than before," she told Hispanic Business magazine.
Thus far, nobody knows exactly how the market is going to react, as the exchanges won't take effect until 2014.
"But many people are starting to anticipate drastic increases in health insurance costs," Ms. Ng'andu said.
Ultimately, fewer illegal immigrants getting coverage would translate into more people using emergency rooms or community health clinics for their health-care needs. These costs tend to ultimately be borne by ratepayers and taxpayers.
Elena Rios, M.D., president and CEO of the National Hispanic Medical Association, said the issue underscores the need for comprehensive immigration reform.
"I think this country needs immigration reform to allow unauthorized immigrants who live here and work here and pay taxes to be able to have certain services," she told Hispanic Business magazine.
Broadly Many Benefit
On a broad scale, though, many Hispanic groups are generally pleased with the new law.
With one in three of all U.S. Hispanics uninsured -- and at least 20 percent of Hispanic-American citizens and legal residents uninsured -- the population has more to gain than any other, Dr. Rios said. (About 15 percent of the entire U.S. population is uninsured.)
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