Thursday, September 10, 2009

President Obama's Historic Health Care Speech

Well, for the most part, President Obama's health care speech was a total snooze last night. For reasons I cannot comprehend, he called a joint session of Congress to basically repeat the stump speech on health care that he has given seemingly 100s of times previously. There was one exciting moment- when Rep. Joe Wilson (R.-SC) called President Obama a liar from the crowd after Obama claimed that illegal aliens would not be able to purchase health insurance coverage under "his" plan ("his" being in quotations marks because as I have noted previously, Obama has never put forward an actual plan, just a bunch of talking points, so I assume that he is referring to H.R. 3200, which has been passed out of the relevant committees in the House of Representatives).

Now, we can argue about whether or not our laws should allow illegal aliens to purchase health insurance coverage (hospitals have to provide them with medical care, so perhaps illegals should be allowed, and maybe encouraged, to purchase coverage). And we can also argue about whether Rep. Wilson breached the rules of civility with his comment. But what we can't argue about is the fact that President Obama lied when he said that illegals would not be allowed to purchase health insurance coverage if H.R. 3200 becomes law.

How can I make this comment? Because the Library of Congress's Congressional Research Service (think of them as Congress's own, private, non-partisan think tank) has reviewed H.R. 3200 and issued a report entitled (appropriately enough): Treatment of Noncitizens in H.R. 3200. Here is what the CRS says on page 2 of this report:

H.R. 3200 includes an individual mandate to have health insurance, with tax penalties for noncompliance. Individuals who do not maintain acceptable health insurance coverage for themselves and their children would be required to pay an additional tax. Some individuals, including nonresident aliens, would be exempt from the individual mandate. “Nonresident alien” is a term under tax but not immigration law. For federal tax purposes, alien individuals are classified as resident or nonresident aliens. In general, an individual is a nonresident alien unless he or she meets the qualifications under a residency test. Thus, legal permanent residents, and
noncitizens and unauthorized aliens who qualify as resident aliens (i.e., meet the substantial presence test), would be required under H.R. 3200 to have health insurance.

In addition, under H.R. 3200, a “Health Insurance Exchange” would begin operation in 2013 and would offer private plans alongside a public option. The Exchange would provide eligible individuals and small businesses with access to insurers’ plans, including the public option, in a comparable way. Individuals would only be eligible to enroll in an Exchange plan if they were not enrolled in other acceptable coverage (for example, from an employer, Medicare and generally Medicaid). H.R. 3200 does not contain any restrictions on noncitzens participating in the Exchange—whether the noncitizens are legally or illegally present, or in the United States temporarily or permanently. Nonetheless, only aliens who could be classified as resident aliens would be required under the bill to have health insurance.

So, yeah, regardless of what you think about this as a policy matter or a breach of decorum, Rep. Wilson was right last night: President Obama is a liar. Hmm, perhaps I should reconsider my decision to give him the benefit of the doubt when he tells me he has no interest in a government take over of the health care industry.

Update 5 p.m., 9/11/09: Hmm, here is some additional proof that Rep. Wilson may have had a point the other night. Time reports that the Senate has moved to close a loophole in the proposed legislation that would allow illegal aliens to obtain health insurance coverage (emphasis added):
The controversy over Republican Representative Joe Wilson's shouting "You lie!"
at the President over his claim that illegal immigrants wouldn't benefit from health-care reform apparently sparked some reconsideration of the relevant language. "We really thought we'd resolved this question of people who are here illegally, but as we reflected on the President's speech last night, we wanted to go back and drill down again," said Senator Kent Conrad, one of the Democrats in the talks after a meeting Thursday morning. Later that afternoon, Baucus said the group would add a proof-of-citizenship requirement for participation in the new health exchange — a move likely to inflame the left.

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