Despite reports that the Affordable Care Act is in danger of being obliterated after the election, enrollment in the health insurance marketplace reopened Nov. 1 to high demand, with more than 100,000 people signing up for coverage in the first week alone.
Anyone without insurance can enroll until the marketplace closes Jan. 31. Since the law took effect, 20 million people have gained coverage, bringing the uninsured rate to an all-time low of 8.6 percent. That’s a lot of people to throw overboard without the lifejacket of health care, and it remains to be seen what Congress may propose to deal with the crisis that would ensue if it were repealed.
While we ready ourselves to try to preserve health care access for millions, getting people covered now is not only our moral obligation but will be among our best defenses. We must include those left out who ought to be in, and young immigrants born elsewhere but eligible to stay in the United States are among them. In 2012, President Barack Obama created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, sheltering from deportation many (often known as DREAMers) who were brought to the U.S. by their parents at an early age. They have known no other home and fervently hope to remain here and live full and productive lives integrated into American society.
Ironically, those able under the president’s program to stay in the United States continue to be denied access to Medicaid, barred from the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which covers children of low-income families, and excluded from accessing the health care available in the marketplace through the Affordable Care Act. Others who reside in the United States with lawful status can obtain health coverage through these programs. Those covered by DACA are the exception.
In the wake of the political victories of staunch opponents of the Affordable Care Act, efforts to improve the law may fall victim to efforts to destroy it. But Obama can lay down a marker and fix the injustice that bars DREAMers from accessing affordable health coverage without a new law. Before leaving office, the president should remove this exception and fully include all who are in the U.S. and deemed “lawfully present” by DACA.
Surely one way to advance the goal of supporting young, striving immigrants is to change the administrative regulations of the Affordable Care Act that exclude DREAMers from federal health care programs. That is indeed within the power of the president to do, and if his legacy is to hold, we urge him to do it immediately.
Nancy K. Kaufman is chief executive officer of the National Council of Jewish Women.