Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham claimed that undocumented immigrants under the Obama administration's deferred action program would have access to health care benefits under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). In fact, DACA recipients are ineligible to apply for subsidized health insurance.
During a town hall event with Spanish-language media on March 6, President Obama allayed fears within the immigrant community that information gathered about undocumented immigrant family members while signing up for health care would not be used for deportation enforcement. In the process, he stated that only U.S. citizens and those with “legal presence” would be able to apply for subsidized health care, noting that “it's true that the undocumented are not eligible -- that's how the law was written.”
On her radio show, Ingraham distorted Obama's comments, claiming that “legal presence” applied to “anyone that he decides to defer immigration action on.” She added: “The DREAMers can get Obamacare.”
In fact, as the New York Times reported in September 2012, undocumented immigrants with lawful presence under DACA are not eligible for subsidized health care:
The White House has ruled that young immigrants who will be allowed to stay in the United States as part of a new federal policy will not be eligible for health insurance coverage under President Obama's health care overhaul.
The decision -- disclosed last month, to little notice -- has infuriated many advocates for Hispanic Americans and immigrants. They say the restrictions are at odds with Mr. Obama's recent praise of the young immigrants.
In June, the president announced that hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children, attended school here and met other requirements would be allowed to remain in the country without fear of deportation.
Immigrants granted such relief would ordinarily meet the definition of “lawfully present” residents, making them eligible for government subsidies to buy private insurance, a central part of the new health care law. But the administration issued a rule in late August that specifically excluded the young immigrants from the definition of “lawfully present.”
At the same time, in a letter to state health officials, the administration said that young immigrants granted a reprieve from deportation “shall not be eligible” for Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program. Administration officials said they viewed the immigration initiative and health coverage as separate matters.
Thanks to a 1995 California law however, about 73,000 DACA recipients who are 21 and under are reportedly eligible for the state-funded Medi-Cal program, which is completely separate from the ACA's Medicaid program.
The law is very clear that only naturalized citizens, permanent residents, and legal immigrants who have lived in the country for more than five years and don't have health care coverage through their jobs are able to apply for subsidized health care and other benefit programs under the ACA. Other immigrants, including refugees, asylum seekers, and those lawfully present under humanitarian measures, also qualify for coverage regardless of how long they have been in the country.
As the San Francisco Chronicle reported in February 2013, immigrants' rights activists criticized the administration for the decision to bar DACA recipients from affordable health care. Indeed, studies have shown it's more costly for the federal government and individual states to deny undocumented immigrants access to affordable health insurance.