By Angela Chagnon
Many questions were brought up at a public forum on H.202 held by the Burlington Democratic Committee last Wednesday. One question in particular concerned whether illegal aliens, or “undocumented workers”, would receive coverage under the proposed Green Mountain Care plan.
Senators Randy Brock (R-Franklin) and Dick Sears (D-Bennington) introduced an amendment to the Senate bill during the floor debate that would prevent illegal aliens from being covered by the proposed single-payer system. The amendment passed 22-8.
“Our organization, ‘Vermont Healthcare for All’, is opposed to that amendment,” declared Dr. Deb Richter, a single-payer advocate. She said that illegals “pay taxes” and don’t increase costs because they “access health care to a lesser degree than others in the population.”
“The costs are in there,” said Anya Rader Wallack, Healthcare Advisor to Governor Shumlin. “If we don’t cover these costs through Green Mountain Care, providers will provide care to people who are undocumented and have to account for that.”
Wallack also pointed out that hospitals cannot turn patients away under federal law. Everyone must be treated regardless of ability to pay or citizenship status.
Senator Sally Fox said that she voted against the amendment in Committee, but voted for it on the Senate floor. She elaborated on her reason for the conflicting votes.
“There was a lot of concern that if the amendment didn’t pass, the bill would fail,” Fox explained. “There were a number of Senators who were very clear that despite the fact that they had supported H.202 through the entire process, if the amendment didn’t pass they would vote against the bill.”
Fox went on to say that the conference committee would clear it up and that “undocumented workers” will be compensated through GMC.
Senator Hinda Miller (D-Chittenden) was concerned that there were no residency requirements for GMC coverage in H.202, even though it takes two years for college students to meet residency requirements to pay in-state tuition. Miller said that “more research” needed to be done on the issue.
Although Richter claimed that no testimony was taken regarding residency requirements, Rep. Jim Eckhardt (R-Chittenden), a member of the Healthcare Committee, said that he had repeatedly brought up the issue of residency in Committee but had been told that it wasn’t a problem.
“I raised residency requirements probably a hundred thousand times, they kept saying there was no problem with residency,” Eckhardt recounted. “I was told that the Hsaio report said it wasn’t a problem.”
Regarding Richter’s remark that illegals “pay taxes”, Eckhardt, who owns Censor Security Inc. responded, “But if they’re undocumented, how do they pay taxes?” He was quick to assert that he does not hire illegal aliens to work for him.