Tuesday, December 25, 2007

No One Should Be Illegal: Oklahoma Denying Health Care to Citizens without Documentation

It is a sign of the impoverishment of this country's immigration debate that the most traction to be gained against kooks who listen to Lou Dobbs comes from instances of the state misapplying its discriminatory policies, and not the inherent unfairness of the policies even if they were to be administered correctly.

The latest example of this is a report I heard this morning (Christmas) on NPR about Oklahoma denying poor legal residents access to health benefits because of rules designed to prevent undocumented aliens from receiving aid. Here's an excerpt from an article from the Oklahoma newspaper the Muskogee Phoenix:
"A law designed to remove illegal aliens from public assistance has instead denied thousands of U.S. citizens their Oklahoma SoonerCare benefits. SoonerCare is a state program through which Medicaid services are managed. The federal Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 changed how states verify the citizenship of recipients. U.S. citizenship has always been necessary, but the new law requires documentation such as a birth certificate."

Oklahoma Health Care Authority spokesperson Nico Gomez said most of the 5,841 people whose SoonerCare benefits were terminated Dec. 1 are probably U.S. citizens:
"'The reason we can make that assumption is because that has been the pattern in other states,' he said. 'Some of the letters we sent have been returned as undeliverable.'"
More direct evidence of the law limiting benefits due citizens are the demographic features of the applicants denied. The article above states: "58 percent are Caucasian; 18 percent are African-American; 13 percent are American Indian; 10 percent are Hispanic and one percent are Asian." Among the program participants, 62 percent are children.

Equally disturbing is that not only are U.S. citizens and undocumented adult aliens being denied care, but Oklahoma politicians are trying to deny prenatal care to "illegal" fetuses (and whoever else is caught in that ugly net). In a separate development, as reported in the Tulsa World on October 10, 2007, legislators in Oklahoma are trying to reverse an Oklahoma Health Care Authority policy that will allow all pregnant women to receive prenatal care. The policy is presently in effect, but is likely to be overturned by a legislature appealing to the nativist bigots who dominate blue and red states alike. According to Randy Terrill, the policy is a "'dangerous precedent' and 'we cannot allow Oklahoma to subsidize illegal activity,'" i.e., being a fetus without a state license.
The rhetoric is another case of nationalism trumping fundamentalism, a point that was made somewhat differently by a Democrat in the Oklahoma Senate,Tom Adelson: "Anyone who professes to embrace a culture of life would not turn their back on 2,800 innocent children born each year in Oklahoma."

But enough of parsing humanity. There is no rational reason that a fetus should have more claim to health care than someone who is 80, and no good reason that someone born in Mexico City should not be allowed the legal privileges of being born in Tulsa. The argument against illegality is tautology and the argument based on cost hubris. Leaving aside the pragmatic benefits of a prenatal health program touted by the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, no computer is powerful enough to produce definitive figures on the total financial impact of removing impediments to free movement, and those who have made this effort generally find the economic arguments will not support the nativists.
(Image is from U.S. government site on history of Native American health care by federal government.)

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