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Everyone has heard by now “the heckle heard round the world”: Rep. Joe Wilson’s astoundingly disrespectful outburst calling the President of the United States a liar before a televised joint session of Congress Wednesday. But that incident is only half the story. What Wilson was referring to is the other.

While there are five draft healhcare bills (3 in the House, 2 in the Senate), the bill most frequently referenced is “House Bill HR3200” (pdf, 1017 pages). Why HR3200 and not one of the other four? Probably because it appears to be the only one readily available online for download (if anyone can supply links to the other four, please post them in the Comments thread below.)

When President Obama said “illegal aliens would not receive healthcare under his plan”, he was referring to the Section 246 of the House bill, which clearly states:

SEC. 246. NO FEDERAL PAYMENT FOR UNDOCUMENTED ALIENS.

Nothing in this subtitle shall allow Federal payments
for affordability credits on behalf of individuals who are
not lawfully present in the United States.

Period. That’s it. Couldn’t be clearer, right? Well apparently not.

The next morning, Republicans ran around doing damage control, defending Wilson’s claim by citing the “lack of a citizenship test” in the Democratic healthcare plan. That’s an untenable restriction they’re proposing there. I’m sure it plays well in the Redneck States, but is completely impracticable here in the real world. A Google News Search on “healthcare illegal aliens” turns up nearly 15,000 results, most of them arguing in favor of “citizenship” testing for healthcare.

But there’s a BIG difference between “lawfully present in the United States” and “CITIZENSHIP“. Tourists from other countries can be “lawfully present” in the U.S. without being citizens. Workers with “Green Cards” are also here legally, as are business travelers with passports. Do we deny tourists medical care if get sick on Mickey’s Teacup Ride?

And are Republicans REALLY demanding patients show “proof of citizenship” before they receive Emergency Care? I’d like to see them pull that one off. “Grandpa is having a heart attack! Quick! Where’s his birth certificate?” (let’s all pray Grandpa wasn’t born in Hawaii).

Now I expect Republicans would say they’d waive that requirement in an emergency. But then you have to get into the weeds and start defining what constitutes “an emergency”. Do they waive the requirement for ALL Emergency Room visits? That’s probably the surest way to ensure continued overuse of the most expensive of all medical services. Do they tell doctors to “make a judgment call”… heart attacks are treated immediately, but tummy aches can wait until they provide proof of citizenship… until that “tummy ache” turns out to be food poisoning, internal bleeding or acute appendicitis. Oopsie!

I’m trying to imagine what might happen to the tourist trade if Europeans decide to boycott the United States for not being as gracious with our healthcare system as they’ve been with theirs. I blame the fact that few Americans ever travel outside the United States anymore. Most people (nearly 3/4ths of us) don’t even have a passport, and with so little disposable income and fewer vacation days than ever before… not to mention job insecurity making people fearful of taking time off… most Americans have no first-hand experience with the medical systems of other countries. They don’t know that if something happens to them while they’re abroad, the host country pays 99%-100% of their medical bills.

So when Republican voters talk of a “citizenship test” for healthcare, it never occurs to them that they would be denying medical service to people visiting the country legally (or sticking them with a huge bill). Some may. But since they themselves never leave the country, the very idea that we might show them the same courtesy they show us is meaningless to them.

Any “citizenship test” for healthcare is ridiculous. It is undesirable and unenforceable. And the Republicans know it. It’s a poison pill because it pleases their base while allowing them to point at Democrats and make nonsense claims like: “They want to give free healthcare to illegal aliens!” (Oddly, no one ever asks, “Why?” Why do you think Democrats are so concerned about insuring illegal aliens? What’s their motivation?)

Sadly, a number of spineless Democrats are falling for the trap, embracing the absurd call for a “citizenship test” rather than stand behind the rational and enforceable “lawfully present” qualifier. But as a bill nears competition and they start to hammer out the details, they will come to realize (hopefully not too late) that requiring full-blown “citizenship” before receiving healthcare services just isn’t practical. And when they back away from it, Republicans will be there waiting to point a boney incriminating finger it their direction, knowing full well there was no other way it could of turned out.

If Democrats wish to avoid the “citizenship test” trap, they’d better call it out NOW for what it is, rather than hand Republicans a giant PR victory come November.
 

POSTSCRIPT: If you haven’t already done so, I encourage you to sign our petition to make “the Public Option” available to EVERYBODY, including people that dislike the insurance plan offered by their employer. Without such an option, there would be NO incentive for insurance companies to lower their rates or improve their services if there was no fear of losing a customer to the Public Option.

 


 

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