Democrats Urge Waivers from Green Card Rule for Virus Tests

House Democratic leaders want clear exemptions for immigrants from Trump administration green card restrictions, as part of legislation to expand free testing and care for the new coronavirus that could set up a showdown with the White House.

Democrats are debating ways to make it free to be tested for Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus found so far in more than 750 Americans.

Proposals include adding coronavirus tests to Obamacare’s list of preventive health services that insurers are required to cover at no cost to beneficiaries and to open up a special enrollment period to allow people without insurance to buy plans, lawmakers said Tuesday.

Lawmakers are also debating how to give the uninsured access to testing at no cost, arguing it could help slow the spread of the virus. As part of that legislation, some lawmakers want to include a waiver that says immigrants who get tested for the coronavirus won’t be subject to the “public charge” rule that took effect in February to make it harder for people to obtain green cards if they have used some public benefit.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg
Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) speaks during a hearing in Washington, D.C., on June 25, 2019.

“If there is one example where you want everyone to be tested and treated so they don’t spread this disease to others, it is the coronavirus,” said Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), a member of the Budget and Ways and Means committees. “The administration’s short-sighted approach with this charge rule I know has discouraged some immigrant families from seeking care.”

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) raised the issue at a House Democratic caucus meeting Tuesday, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said. Jayapal said she agreed such a provision is necessary, however there’s a concern it could run into opposition from the White House.

“We need a waiver so people know that this information or getting care is not going to be used against them so they can come forward and get tested and get care,” she said.

A spokeswoman for Hoyer said he was speaking generally about the need for everyone to come forward for testing and didn’t offer specific policy recommendations.

Aides at the White House and the Department of Homeland Security didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Meeting With Insurers

House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) said he’s trying to write legislation that could move as early as this week to make testing free to all Americans this week. He was scheduled to meet Tuesday with executives from insurers such as Humana Inc., Anthem Inc., Health Care Service Corp., Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, Cigna Corp., UnitedHealth Group Inc., Aetna Inc., and Kaiser Permanente.

Some health insurers have already offered to waive co-pays and other fees related to coronavirus testing. The Trump administration has moved to make testing free for Medicare beneficiaries and to add those tests to the Affordable Care Act’s list of essential health benefits, which would mean insurers would be required to cover the test but beneficiaries could still be subject to some kind of cost-sharing.

Republicans didn’t dismiss the idea of a public charge waiver Tuesday. Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.) said he would consider “any proposal that could help” slow the spread of the coronavirus.

“We need to put humanity above the political arena,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Ruoff in Washington at aruoff@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at phendrie@bgov.com; Robin Meszoly at rmeszoly@bgov.com

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