Groups push O-Care coverage for Dreamers

A coalition of public health, labor and immigrant rights groups is urging President Obama to extend health coverage to immigrants allowed to remain in the United States under the administration’s controversial deferred action program.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), initiated via executive action in 2012, allows certain immigrants who came to the United States illegally as children to stay in the country and work.

But under guidance and regulations issued that year, those immigrants — often called “Dreamers” in reference to the stalled DREAM Act — are not entitled to health coverage under the Affordable Care Act, federal Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Roughly 80 national organizations, including the AFL-CIO, the National Council of La Raza and the American Public health Association, note in a letter to Obama that tax dollars from the DACA grantees help support those programs.

“To continue to restrict immigrants’ access to affordable health coverage and care is to undermine values of fairness and opportunity, and this administration’s own achievements in expanding access to coverage, lowering healthcare costs, and sustaining the healthcare system for future generations,” the groups write.

With immigration reform legislation now mired in congressional gridlock, Obama is said to be weighing a new round of executive action on the issue.

A group of legal scholars called this week for a dramatic expansion of the DACA program as part of a set of proposed actions within Obama’s authority. The step could extend eligibility for the program to thousands or even millions of additional immigrants now in the country illegally.

Critics of the idea, including numerous congressional Republicans, have pushed back forcefully against the idea and are unlikely to embrace the new calls to extend federal healthcare programs to those who currently have DACA status.

But the groups pushing the idea are appealing to the president to say extending the coverage to DACA grantees makes both moral and economic sense.

“These federal restrictions are harmful to immigrant families and communities, establish a dangerous precedent, and are costly and counterproductive,” they wrote. “The restrictions have caused administrative burdens and have emboldened state lawmakers to discriminate against DACA grantees.”