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Dems to Obama: Clarify immigrant health care

House Democrats want the White House to clarify the tougher view it has taken on illegal immigrants and health care reform.
/ Source: The Associated Press

House Democrats want the White House to clarify the tougher view it has taken on illegal immigrants and health care reform, saying they can't buy insurance with their own money from a government-created marketplace.

The White House said last week that President Barack Obama will oppose allowing illegal immigrants to buy insurance through the purchasing exchanges, including from participating private companies. Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said that is what Obama intended all along. Also, a system would be created to verify people buying from the exchange are in the country legally, he said.

"I'm not sure if Gibbs misspoke," Rep. Xavier Becerra, vice chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said Tuesday.

Asked to clarify Gibbs' comments, White House spokeswoman Gannett Tseaggai repeated the White House view that undocumented immigrants would not be allowed to purchase health care insurance on the exchange.

No subsidies
Democrats said the health care proposals were to bar undocumented immigrants from getting any tax-supported subsidies to buy health insurance, but not prevent them from using their own money to buy private insurance.

The proposed exchange would allow consumers and small businesses to shop for insurance and compare prices in a regulated, competitive environment.

"There's a consensus undocumented will not be able to have any subsidies. To deny those undocumented folks who could afford private insurance plans to do so, what's the rationale?" said Rep. Mike Honda, D-Calif., a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

One of the points of health care reform is to reduce the use of emergency rooms by the uninsured, Honda said. "Those undocumented immigrants who are working and buying their own health insurance, why would you want to get involved in that? All that will happen is they will become clients of the emergency room," he said.

Becerra said the White House has been an active participant in writing the House bill that did not include the ban Gibbs mentioned.

Unsure of White House
"I'm not sure what the White House is doing with this. Shadow boxing helps no one," Becerra said.

The White House said illegal immigrants could use their own money to buy coverage from the few private insurance companies that will still sell insurance outside the exchange.

Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, sees the White House view as an admission Democrats were providing coverage for illegal immigrants.

His comments followed a House vote to rebuke Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., for yelling "You lie" at Obama when the president spoke to Congress last week and said his health care reform proposals do not apply to people in the country illegally.