The Associated Press reported on Monday that many immigrants whose family members do not have legal status in the United States are shying away from signing up for health coverage through "Obamacare" out of the fear that personal information submitted during the application process might fall into the hands of immigration authorities, who might then use it as evidence against undocumented relatives.  Those fears, however unfounded, may prove an extra impediment for the effectiveness of the new system, which depends partly on premiums paid by the young to field the higher costs of care provided for the elderly. 

In an Oct. 25 memo from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the agency sought to make clear its stance vis-à-vis the possibility in a memo clarifying its practices relating to healthcare information.  The memo instructed agents that in accordance with limitations set out by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the Social Security Administration (SSA), and what it called its own "operational focus", it would not use information provided by healthcare coverage applicants "for purposes of determining eligibility for such coverage as the basis for pursuing a civil immigration enforcement action against such individuals or members of their household" regardless of where that information came from. 

The exchange's website also has an information section aimed at immigrant families which specifies that family members who aren't applying for health coverage for themselves do not have to provide information about their immigration status (undocumented immigrants are not eligible for coverage under the law).  But some immigrants, immigrant advocates and health policy analysts told the Associated Press that they were still seeing cases in which the prospect was dissuading potential participants.  And the AP notes that immigrant families, which are usually younger and healthier compared to the rest of the population, could be an important part of bringing down premiums across the exchanges, as about a third of the nation's approximate 40 million immigrants have no health insurance.

 

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