Why Illinois Giving Medicaid-like Coverage to Illegal Seniors Matters to Everyone

As FAIR reported earlier this year, the Illinois legislature passed a budget with a provision extending Medicaid-like coverage to illegal immigrants aged 65 and older. It was subsequently signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) which means that an estimated 900 low-income non-citizen seniors will soon be able to start applying for retroactive coverage that will pay off any bills incurred over the last year. That Illinois lawmakers would hand out benefits to non-citizens in the first place is illogical. But to do so when you are in the midst of pandemic, a recession and staring at a projected $7 billion budget shortfall and rising debt and pension costs is the kind of lunacy which should awaken public and policymakers alike in every other state.

Illinois may be the first state to expand state-funded Medicaid-like coverage to elderly aliens, but California is not far behind. In fact, after extending its state Medicaid program to illegal aliens between 19 and 26 years of age, California committed to expanding its Medi-Cal program to 27,000 low-income illegal aliens in January, but had semi-second thoughts. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) still intends to expand benefits to low-income illegal aliens but is holding off on appropriating funds until an undetermined point in the future out of cost concerns.

Those concerns are not shared by special interest groups whose sole goal is to normalize illegal residents even at the cost of legal immigrants and American citizens.

In Illinois, the $5 million payout to illegal seniors (which was originally estimated to cost $2 million) was the skinny version of Healthy Illinois for All, a bill to provide coverage to all low-income residents, including illegal aliens. It was put aside because enough lawmakers raised concerns about the Prairie State’s dire fiscal situation.

But the issue will be raised again because there is rising demand to give elderly, thus sympathetic, illegal aliens additional benefits. A primary justification used by proponents of the Medicaid expansion were findings from a Rush University Medical Center study that showed that the population of older and poorer immigrants will “substantially” grow in Illinois over the next 10 years.

Medicaid is also under more pressure in the short-term thanks to the coronavirus. At least twelve states have set out policy so that Medicaid will reimburse providers for COVID-related treatment of low-income patients irrespective of immigration status. One of those states – Illinois – is providing all COVID-19-related diagnostics to residents regardless of financial or immigration status.

But special interests and full-time amnesty advocates want more. Lots more.

“The budget proposal to provide Medi-Cal to all income-eligible seniors, regardless of immigration status, is now more urgent than ever. California should not delay, and in fact should expedite this planned expansion to this at-risk population that is currently excluded from coverage,” said Anthony Wright, Executive Director of Health Access California, last spring.

To understand why a limited program to less than 1,000 aging illegal aliens matters it is important to look back on how demographics have changed in the last several decades.

Consider that between 1990 and 2010, the elderly immigrant population in the United States rose from 2.7 million to 4.6 million – a 70 percent increase in 20 years. The number of illegal aliens who have been in the country for more than 15 years is increasing – as are the costs associated with their aging.

Conversely, according to the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), the share of newly arrived immigrants who are 50 years of age or older has nearly doubled, while those who are 65 and older has almost tripled. Not only are the long-term illegal aliens getting older, the newer immigrants are as well, which will only exacerbate the graying of the native population. Furthermore, the 65 and older immigrant population who are of retirement age now matches that of the native-born, according to CIS.

But we also have to look to the future.

A just-released Kaiser Family Foundation brief finds that states are anticipating Medicaid enrollment to rise by 8.4 percent in fiscal year 2021, compared to 6.3 percent growth in fiscal year 2020. The leap in enrollment is not surprising since it usually rises in economic crises when workers lose their employer-sponsored healthcare coverage.

Individuals in government are having to make hard decisions about where and on whom to spend limited financial resources just as individual families are cutting back to make ends meet. The ripple effects of the pandemic and the economic devastation it has caused will last for decades, so the time is now to have the hard talks about where the priorities are for our communities, our states and our nation. And let’s look to Illinois as an example not to follow.

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