Verify First Act Would Require U.S Citizenship or Legal Status Proof to Access Health Care Subsidies

At around 4pm on Tuesday, the U.S House of Representatives passed the Verify First Act, which would require people to have their immigration status verified before receiving any advance payments for health care tax credit.

“No advance payment of the credit allowed… with respect to any premium [health care coverage]… with respect to any individual shall be made unless the Secretary [of Treasury] has verified the individual’s status as a citizen or national of the United States or an alien lawfully present in the U.S.,” part of the bill read.

According to the bill, the Social Security Administration or the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would first have to verify a person’s immigration status through a social security number. Individual taxpayer identification numbers would not be accepted.

After that, the DHS would need to notify the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) about the applicant’s immigration status. Once the Department of the Treasury receives confirmation from HHS, the applicant can finally receive the tax credit to enroll and access health care within the Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplace.

Even though proof of U.S citizenship or legal immigration status is already a requirement to apply for this tax credit, critics of the bill say this verification process would make the application process longer and may delay the advance payments for those who apply for such credit.

“This legislation is based on a faulty premise about immigrants unlawfully obtaining certain health care subsidies, and its enactment would endanger public health,” said Vanita Gupta of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of 200 organization advocating for civil and human rights in the United States, in a letter to the House prior to the vote.

The ACA offers subsidies and premium tax credits to low-income families to reduce the cost that help them to purchase health insurance within the marketplace. One way to receive subsidies is through the advance payments. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) can pay directly the insurer reducing the cost of the premium.

Republican Congressman of Pennsylvania Lou Barletta first introduced the Verify First Act on May 22. This comes after a 2016 Senate report showed that at least 500,000 people unable to verify their immigration status received tax credit.

“The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), distributed approximately $750 million in taxpayer funds in the form of tax credits, and anticipates that the IRS is unable to fully recoup the funds,” the report said.

Currently, the marketplaces within the ACA are the ones responsible to verify applicants’ immigration status.

Organizations in support for the bill are using the argument that many undocumented people are receiving tax credit to access health care.

“Hard-working Americans and legal residents already are struggling to pay for their own health care. There is simply no excuse for the Federal government to force them to subsidize health care for illegal aliens through taxpayer-funded credits,” said part of a statement released by NumbersUSA, a conservative immigration organization that supports the bill.

The Trump’s administration is also showing support for the bill:

“By eliminating the practice of providing advance payments while an applicant’s immigration status is being verified, this bill stems the flow of payments to ineligible individuals under Obamacare and strengthens the ability of the Administration to ensure premium tax credits will be appropriately provided to eligible individuals under the American Health Care Act of 2017 (AHCA).”

However, there is no proof that the 500,000 people unable to demonstrate their immigration status were undocumented.

“This is a dangerous bill that puts up roadblocks for both citizens and immigrants to obtain timely, affordable health insurance,” read a statement released by Indivisible Guide, a progressive organization in resistance to the Trump’s administration opposing the bill.

The bill passed with 238 votes (including seven Democrats), while 184 opposed it. It still needs to be passed by the Senate and signed by President Trump for it to become a law.

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María Camila Montañez is a journalism student at CUNY Graduate School of Journalism’s Spanish-language program. She is originally from Colombia and tweets from @mariacmontanez.

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