Commentary: Another 'red herring' in health care debate

Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., isn't the only lawmaker to claim that illegal immigrants would benefit from health care reform. Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Goddard, said at town hall meetings last month that the health reform plan in Congress would pay for insuring illegals.

But as nonpartisan fact-checking organizations have repeatedly stated, such claims are false or vastly overstated. House and Senate bills explicitly prohibit "individuals who are not lawfully present in the United States" from receiving federal assistance to buy health insurance.

Though he has apologized for yelling "You lie!" at President Obama, Wilson still contends that he isn't wrong about illegal immigrants. He argues that it might be possible for an illegal immigrant to benefit from health care reform, because there isn't a strict verification method in the House bill for determining whether a person is an illegal immigrant.

But haven't we gone down this dead end before?

Because of unsubstantiated concerns that illegal immigrants were receiving Medicaid benefits, states were forced in 2007 to verify the citizenship of Medicaid beneficiaries. That resulted in long delays for U.S. citizens and high enforcement costs for states — but very few cases of illegal immigrants seeking benefits.

A study of six states by a House oversight committee found the states spent $8.3 million on enforcement and caught only eight illegal immigrants. Kansas spent $1 million and turned up one illegal immigrant among the applicants.

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