What will and won’t be offered to undocumented workers

Dan Gorenstein Nov 21, 2014

What will and won’t be offered to undocumented workers

Dan Gorenstein Nov 21, 2014

President Barack Obama has mapped out his plan to extend certain protections to some 5 million undocumented workers.

If people — many of them parents of U.S. citizens — pass background checks and pay taxes, they can avoid deportation and work in the country legally.

One thing they won’t get is access to healthcare coverage under the Affordable Care Act; something advocates have fought for fiercely.

So why is healthcare not part of this package of benefits?

Leading up to his speech, administration officials talked about how the President just didn’t have the legal authority to do it. The White House wanted a plan that was “legally unassailable.”

Sonya Schwartz with Georgetown’s Center for Children and Families, says she sees some under-the-radar health benefits here.

“People won’t have to fear deportation. They’ll be able to work legally and pay taxes. And they’ll just generally, their whole family will be way less stressed out,” says Schwartz.

The impact of on-going stress and anxiety can have physiological effects on a person’s health. 

Beyond that, Schwartz did a study recently and found there are more than 1 million Latino children who are eligible for health insurance, like Medicaid, but aren’t enrolled. She hopes when people get more protections, they’ll be more likely to sign their kids up for coverage.

But while children may get some coverage, it looks like their parents won’t, and many are low-wage workers.  

From an economic standpoint, there’s been a lot of debate about whether being uninsured drove health costs up or down. It’s easy to imagine uninsured people going without care until a health situation spirals and costs go through the roof.

But Harvard economist Kate Baicker reminds us that when people have insurance, spending rises. 

“Insured people consume more doctor’s office visits, hospital visits, emergency department visits, and that translates to about 30 percent more healthcare use when people gain insurance through a program like Medicaid,” says Baicker.

To be clear, if a person has insurance, she or he is more likely to go to the doctor and get medications.

So if President Obama had extended access to insurance coverage, individuals would have gained better access, and doctors, hospitals insurers and drug companies would have see a boost in business. 

But it would also have cost a lot of money in the form of more taxpayer subsidies.



There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible. 

Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.