De Blasio's ineffectual health care plan for undocumented immigrants

De Blasio's ineffectual health care plan for undocumented immigrants

De Blasio's ineffectual health care plan for undocumented immigrants
December 30, 2015

According to the mayor’s office, there are an estimated 345,507 undocumented immigrants in New York City that do not have health insurance. In keeping with his progressive philosophy, Mayor Bill de Blasio has proposed providing this population with free health care on the taxpayer dime. Surprisingly, this proposal has critics on both sides of the immigration issue.

This government-backed health insurance will be offered through a pilot program called “Direct Access” that will provide 1,000 of these uninsured undocumented immigrants. According to Gotham Gazette, pro-immigrant groups feel that this is simply a PR stunt or “window dressing,” as it won’t make a significant dent in the problem. Dr. Ramin Asgary, a population health professor at the NYU School of Medicine, told the publication that while de Blasio had good intentions, the actual approach was, in reality, “close to a joke.”

Why should pro-immigrant groups be happy that de Blasio is giving a fraction of uninsured undocumented immigrants free health care? After all, they have their sights set on larger goals: Give each and every uninsured undocumented immigrant health insurance and use this as a way to bypass the traditional immigration process that has seen reforms stall at the federal level.

To call this proposal some sort of political play by de Blasio for increased support within the Latino community, especially after a recent Marist poll found that his approval rating among Latino voters has plummeted from 49 percent to 37 percent, would be giving him too much credit.

De Blasio’s heart may be in the right place, but he and supporters of this proposal fail to recognize that insuring undocumented immigrants is not the responsibility of city government.  It’s insulting to the citizens who bankroll the government with their taxes and employ them with their vote.

Undocumented immigrants deserve health care like anyone else, but the city government in no way, shape or form should be footing the bill or providing it – especially when the taxpaying citizens it represents have an assortment of needs that are being neglected.

To use rather simplistic analogy, what if the New York Sports Club allowed non-members to use their facilities without paying an initiation or monthly membership fee? It would cheapen the value of the membership for existing members and would make prospective members wonder why they should follow the formal rules and pay for something they could get for free.

A better solution would be for private sectors to provide the funding necessary for health care for undocumented immigrants. Nonprofits could raise money and acquire high-quality health plans for immigrants and even low-income families that are citizens, with insurers such as Aetna, UnitedHealthcare, Anthem or Cigna, at zero cost to the taxpayer.

Instead, Direct Access would provide health care to just 1,000 of the undocumented immigrants at a cost of $6 million. If this program were expanded to cover all 345,507 uninsured unauthorized immigrants, the cost to New York City would be over $2 billion.

That money would go a long way towards fighting problems plaguing New York City and its legal residents, such as the homelessness or housing crisis. The U.S. Census recently put the number of foreign-born New Yorkers as 37 percent of the total population of New York City. Having played by the rules of the immigration process and paid their fair share of taxes, these individuals and families have a right to see that their investment in government is returned to them in the form of necessary public services.

If de Blasio truly wants to build a national voice, and if his allies want to seriously provide health care to undocumented immigrants, they should abandon their belief that investing taxpayer money is the answer. Doing so through the private sector would create a more equal New York for both documented and undocumented immigrants, and could serve as a national model in lieu of comprehensive immigration reform.   

Evan Siegfried, a Republican strategist, is president of Somm Consulting, a public affairs firm based in New York City. He can be followed on Twitter @evansiegfried.

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Evan Siegfried
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