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December 15, 2018

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Specter of immigration rule change sparks health exchange concerns

A possible new hurdle in the immigration process could dissuade residents from seeking services and is leading some to fear Obamacare health care subsidies, experts say.

The Department of Homeland Security’s possible new rule adds public programs that count against more residents in their immigration process. Expansion of the “public charge” rule would have a ripple effect, but so far does not include health care subsidies offered through Obamacare exchanges, said Heather Korbulic, director of the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange.

“There is a chilling impact for these people who are concerned that their benefits or their subsidies on the exchange are going to be counted against them,” Korbulic said. “I’m really concerned because we’re hearing from our call center and from others that people are calling and saying nope, we don’t want to be connected to anything government because we’re concerned about how that impacts our immigration status.”

The current rule applies to immigrants seeking to enter the U.S. legally and those seeking a green card. The Trump administration wants that list to also include those seeking to extend their visas and those switching to a new type of visa, according to State Health Value Strategies.

The proposed DHS rule also adds a handful of programs to the list of those that can count against immigrants, including Medicaid, with some exceptions.

Korbulic said the exchange is working to educate consumers. She said customers should contact immigration attorneys with questions about their immigration status and how it might impact their benefits.

“The subsidies on the exchange are not included in the proposed rule,” Korbulic said. “People are asking questions about their legal status and so we really have to be making sure that they’re seeking advice and counsel from immigration attorneys and getting legal assistance through legal mechanisms.”

The government is taking comments on the proposed rule through Dec. 10.

“Under long-standing federal law, those seeking to immigrate to the United States must show they can support themselves financially,” said DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen in a Sept. 22 news release. “The department takes seriously its responsibility to be transparent in its rulemaking and is welcoming public comment on the proposed rule. This proposed rule will implement a law passed by Congress intended to promote immigrant self-sufficiency and protect finite resources by ensuring that they are not likely to become burdens on American taxpayers.”

Open enrollment on the Silver State Health Exchange runs through Dec. 15.