Fox falsely accused President Obama of disregarding the law after he pledged not to use health care enrollment information as a deportation tool.
In a March 19 interview with Univision Deportes, Obama promised that information provided for the purpose of enrolling in the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) health care exchanges would not threaten family members who may be undocumented, saying “if you have a family where some people are citizens or legally here, and others are not documented, the immigration people will never get that information.”
Fox & Friends co-hosts attacked Obama's statement the following day, pretending his comments were a revelation and that his plan violates current law. Co-host Steve Doocy claimed that the decision would set HHS apart from other agencies, “where if they find out something, they share it.” He went on to frame the plan as “extraordinary,” and co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck agreed, suggesting it is against the law:
But the policy that Obama discussed is, in fact, consistent with the law's implementing regulations. As the National Immigration Law Center has pointed out, ACA regulations do not require applicants who are not seeking health coverage for themselves “to provide information about their citizenship or immigration status and are not required to provide a Social Security number.”
Not only is the policy not new, it is not unique to the ACA. In fact, government agencies are only required to report undocumented immigrants in relation to three federal programs - Social Security, public housing, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families -- and only if the individuals' immigration status is known. Obama's promise is consistent with longstanding federal policy:
The ACA codifies longstanding federal guidance, known as the Tri-Agency Guidance, which was issued by the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Agriculture to ensure that applications do not require unnecessary information from nonapplicants, because these inquiries deter eligible people from securing benefits for which they may be eligible. According to ACA regulations, applications “may not request citizenship status, status as a national, or immigration status from an individual who is not seeking coverage for himself or herself on any application or supplemental form.”
The policy was designed to alleviate concerns from mixed-status families that enrollment of eligible family members may cause repercussions for their undocumented family members. As Reuters reported, these fears can leave eligible children without coverage:
“A lot of mixed-status families are afraid that if they enroll, that the government will come and divide up their family through deportation,” said Daniel Zingale, senior vice president at the California Endowment, a health foundation.
One couple who last month came to a Los Angeles event by the group Vision y Compromiso demonstrates the types of problems these families face, said program manager Hugo Ramirez. The organization, dedicated to improving the health of the Hispanic community, received funding through Covered California to promote Obamacare.
The undocumented parents, a father who is a construction worker and a mother who works as a house cleaner, feared information they might submit to enroll their three children in Covered California could be used against them by U.S. immigration officials, Ramirez said.
An advocate advised the couple they would not risk running afoul of immigration authorities, but that in enrolling their children and providing details on the family's earnings, they would have to begin paying income taxes despite being undocumented, Ramirez said. The couple seemed inclined to buy coverage for their children, ages 17 and younger, he said.