On April 13th, 2023, President Joe Biden announced that DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipients would be able to apply for Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance exchanges. This decision allows hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children to access government-funded health insurance programs.
The Current Status of DACA and Healthcare Access
The DACA program, launched by then-President Barack Obama in 2012, provided protection from deportation and the ability to work legally for immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children. However, these “Dreamers” were ineligible for government-subsidized health insurance programs due to their lack of “lawful presence” in the U.S. As of last year, an estimated 580,000 people were enrolled in DACA, with court orders currently preventing the processing of new applications.
Dreamers can work legally and pay taxes, but they lack full legal status and are denied many benefits, including access to federally funded health insurance available to U.S. citizens and foreigners living in the U.S. More than a third of DACA recipients are estimated to be without healthcare coverage, while about half of the roughly 20 million immigrants living in the U.S. without documentation are uninsured.
The Impact of Expanding Healthcare Access for DACA Recipients
Providing more people with insurance could positively impact the entire healthcare system, giving more individuals access to routine checkups and reducing the need for emergency visits. Jamila Michener, an associate professor of government and policy at Cornell University, states that making preventive care less accessible drives up the cost of emergency care and having sizeable groups of people in the U.S. who cannot access vital health benefits is bad for everyone.
The announcement of expanded healthcare access for DACA recipients has been hailed as a “major victory” by Jose Muñoz, the national communications manager for the immigration advocacy organization United We Dream. He explains that until this announcement, many DACA recipients had to pay higher costs for private insurance or go uninsured.
Challenges and the Pathway to Citizenship
Despite bipartisan support for protections for immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children, negotiations have often broken down due to debates about border security and the potential impact on unauthorized immigration. President Biden, a Democrat, has repeatedly called on Congress to provide a pathway to citizenship for these individuals.
Other classes of immigrants, such as asylum seekers and people with temporary protected status, are already eligible to purchase insurance through the Affordable Care Act’s marketplaces, often referred to as “ObamaCare.”
As the DACA program faces, ongoing legal challenges and the number of eligible recipients shrinks, the expansion of healthcare access is a significant step towards ensuring that hundreds of thousands of individuals can access the opportunities and support they deserve. The action may generate pushback from conservative leaders of states that have been reluctant to expand Medicaid and critical of the Biden administration’s response to migrants who enter the U.S. illegally. However, this decision represents a “huge sigh of relief for many DACA recipients.”
- FACT SHEET: Fact Sheet: President Biden Announces Plan to Expand Health Coverage to DACA Recipients. Whitehouse.Gov.
- Biden says he’s expanding some migrants’ health care access. Whitehouse.Gov.
- In Major Victory For DACA Recipients, President Biden Announces Health Care Expansion For DACA Recipients. Whitehouse.Gov.