by Michael Cannon, CATO Institute
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) recently set aside her vociferous opposition to ObamaCare’scostly Medicaid expansion by announcing she will support implementing that expansion in Arizona. A significant factor in her reversal, she claimed, was that if Arizona did not expand its Medicaid program, then some legal immigrants would receive government subsidies while U.S. citizens would get nothing.
Brewer’s analysis of this “immigration glitch,” and her remedy for it, are faulty. Fortunately, she, Arizona’s legislature, and its attorney general have better options for stopping it.
An odd and unforeseen result of the Supreme Court’s decision upholding ObamaCare is that, in certain circumstances, the law will now subsidize legal immigrants but not citizens. What triggers this inequity is a state’s decision to implement an Exchange – not the decision to opt out of the Medicaid expansion. (Even if a state implements both provisions, legal immigrants would still receive more valuable subsidies than citizens.) The good news is that states can therefore prevent this inequity simply by not establishing an Exchange. If Brewer wants to avoid this “immigration glitch,” there is no need to expand Medicaid. She already blocked it when she refused to establish an Exchange.
The bad news is that the Obama administration is trying to take away the power Congress granted states to block those discriminatory subsidies, and the punitive taxes that accompany them. Contrary to both the statute and congressional intent, the IRS hasannounced it will impose that witch’s brew in all states, even in the 32 that have refused to establish an Exchange.
Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt has filed suit to stop that stunning power grab. If Brewer is serious about stopping the “immigration glitch,” the way to do it is by filing a lawsuit similar to Oklahoma’s, while adding a complaint that the Obama administration’s illegal subsidies also violate the Equal Protection clause.
How “the Immigration Glitch” Emerged
ObamaCare aims to offer some form of tax credit or subsidy to purchase health insurance to all citizens and legal immigrants below 400 percent of the federal poverty level (about $92,000 for a family of four). Generally, people below 138 percent of the poverty level would receive subsidies through their state’s Medicaid program, while citizens and legal immigrants between 100-400 percent of poverty would receive tax credits and/or subsidies to purchase private health insurance through state-created health insurance “exchanges.”
In a slight departure from those general rules, Congress also made legal immigrants below 100 percent of poverty eligible for those Exchange subsidies. Why? ObamaCare originally would have required states to expand their Medicaid programs to all citizens up to 138 percent of poverty level. But since states have the option of excluding legal immigrants from their Medicaid programs, and could continue to do so under that expansion, Congress made legal immigrants below the poverty level eligible for Exchange subsidies if they live in one of those states. Since ObamaCare supporters expected all states to implement the Medicaid expansion, they reasonably believed all citizens and legal immigrants below 400 percent of poverty would receive some form of tax credit or subsidy.
Then along came Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts.
With six of his colleagues, Roberts voted to declare ObamaCare’s Medicaid mandate unconstitutional. Four of those justices then voted to strike down the entire law on the grounds that the Medicaid mandate was not severable from what remained. But rather than vote with them, Roberts voted with the other four justices—including two who held the Medicaid mandate to be constitutional—to preserve the law and simply make the Medicaid expansion optional for states.Details