Protecting the health of legal immigrants

October 30, 2018 Rod Hochman

This post is co-authored by Ali Santore, group vice president of Government Affairs for Providence St. Joseph Health. 

With one breaking news story after another cluttering the airwaves, it’s hard to keep track of current events and all the issues facing our nation. That’s why we urgently want to bring greater attention to a proposed change in U.S. immigration policy that could have sweeping consequences, potentially jeopardizing the health of legal immigrants, as well as the health of our communities at large.

The proposal would make it harder for legal immigrants to gain permanent residence if they have ever applied for government assistance, such as Medicaid and Medicare Part D. The argument for changing the “public charge” rule is that people who move here from other countries should not be a burden on American taxpayers.

While we understand the concern, Providence St. Joseph Health believes the proposal will have the exact opposite effect and will eventually cost taxpayers more money in the long run. That’s because when people do not have health insurance, they tend to put off needed medical care until their condition worsens and they become very sick. Waiting until individuals need emergency care or hospitalization ends up being a much more expensive proposition for the entire country.

It’s more cost effective to provide coverage upfront through programs like Medicaid and Medicare Part D to keep people healthy and address medical concerns early. In this way, individuals can remain productive members of society, able to support their families and contribute to the economy.

But for Providence St. Joseph Health, the even bigger question is what kind of country do we want to be? We believe health is a fundamental human right. And when we discourage legal immigrants, who pay taxes, from enrolling in health benefits for which they qualify, we deny them the chance to live the healthiest life possible.

The implications are potentially staggering. By its own account, the Department of Homeland Security estimates that the public charge proposal will take nearly 400,000 legal immigrants off the public rolls. But others estimate that the impact will be even higher.

Nearly 5.7 million people who are covered by Medicaid live in a household with a foreign-born noncitizen. This includes millions of children who depend on Medicaid because of a disability or medical diagnosis. One analysis found that as many as 700,000 to 1.7 million children could be disenrolled from Medicaid as a result of the proposed policy.

At Providence St. Joseph Health, our values call us to stand in solidarity with the most vulnerable and to respect the inherent dignity of every individual. That means we will speak up and take action when we see disparities and injustice, especially when it comes to the most marginalized and forgotten members of our society.

Our organization is made up of 119,000 caregivers who serve in seven Western states. We’ve used our collective voice many times before to speak up for the health of immigrants, and we intend to do it again on this latest issue.

This time, we invite concerned members of the public to join us.

The Department of Homeland Security is accepting public comment over the proposed policy from now until Dec. 10. Visit our grassroots campaign page to get the facts. You can also easily submit a letter of concern. All you need to do is enter your name, email address and zip code, and then hit send.

At a time when we are being barraged by so many distractions in the news media, we need to make sure we’re paying attention to the issues that matter, especially those that will hurt the most vulnerable among us. This latest proposal could have devastating consequences. It’s up to us to speak out and be a voice for the voiceless. This request for action is completely voluntary. But if you feel called to join us, we welcome your support, and we thank you.


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About the Author

Rod Hochman

Rod Hochman is president and CEO of Providence St. Joseph Health, a national, Catholic, not-for-profit health system, comprising a diverse family of organizations serving Alaska, California, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas and Washington.

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