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A Move Biden Needs to Make

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Expanding the ACA to cover DACA immigrants just makes all the sense in the world, both politically and morally.

When Obama carved out DACA recipients in 2012, he was fighting for his own political life. In the previous midterm election, Democrats lost more than 60 seats in the House, the largest shift in decades. “There were major town halls where people were yelling about the ACA and saying immigrants can’t have health care,” explained Tom Jawetz, vice president for immigration policy at the Center for American Progress.

But Jawetz believes that we’re in a different political moment today, where this kind of regulatory change is likely. That’s especially true in the midst of a pandemic.

On Wednesday, Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) and 90 other members of Congress sent a letter to the Biden administration urging action on health care for DACA recipients. They argue that President Biden can reverse the Obama-era regulation, which bars DACA recipients from access to Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and from purchasing health insurance on the ACA marketplace.

“We’re optimistic because Biden stood on the debate stage and raised his hand and said undocumented immigrants should be covered,” Magaña-Salgado said, referring to a primary debate in June 2019. Magaña-Salgado pointed as well to a political shift around immigrants and benefits during the Trump administration. Trump’s “public charge” rule, which bars from entering the country or solidifying their status immigrants who have used or may in the future use public benefits, was roundly condemned. During the 2020 campaign, Trump downplayed talking about immigrants.

“Fixing this incongruity within the first 100 days of the administration is critical as any additional delay in health care access during the COVID-19 pandemic puts the health of DACA recipients, their families, and the wider community at risk,” the Castro letter states.

More than 200,000 DACA recipients are employed as essential workers during the pandemic, the letter notes. Reversing the regulation would grant health care access to another 650,000 people, and up to 1.7 million as more undocumented immigrants are accepted into the DACA program, according to Magaña-Salgado. He also explained that most DACA recipients are young, healthy people, a category Congress should want to get into the exchange to balance out the risk pool and help bring down premiums.

Like other regulations, the change must go through a public-comment period and additional aspects of administrative procedure. It could take several months for the change to take effect. Nevertheless, proponents say that Biden should immediately direct incoming HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra to prioritize the issue.

This is a no-brainer. Biden needs to make it happen. Could help shore up Democratic support in Latino communities as well.

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