With the state finances reeling, one lawmaker is exploring how much money could be saved by restricting access to state healthcare benefits for undocumented immigrants.
The potentially explosive issue already has come under scrutiny following a state audit that showed as many as 75 percent of the children covered under the state’s ALL KIDS program were undocumented.
The legislator who is working to limit access to state benefits in order to cut state spending is Rep. Adam Brown, a sophomore Republican from Decatur.
“For me it is frustrating,” Brown said. “Until they are paying their fair share into the system, they shouldn’t be receiving state benefits.”
But Brown’s approach is already coming under heavy criticism from Rep. Mary Flowers, the Chicago Democrat who chairs a House committee focused on making healthcare accessible.
“What’s important to remember is that these children of undocumented immigrants are undocumented because they are born into it,” Flowers said. “Nobody asked them if they wanted to be undocumented.”
Brown’s point is that putting increased restrictions on state-funded benefits would encourage undocumented immigrants to seek to become legal residents, a move that would bring in more tax dollars and ease the burden on tax-paying Illinoisans.
An audit by the Illinois Office of the Auditor General determined that 75 percent of children covered under ALL KIDS were undocumented immigrants, based on statistics from the Department of Healthcare and Family Services.
But Charles N. Wheeler III, a longtime state budget analyst, challenged the figure.
“It’s hard to believe that such a large portion of them are illegal,” said Wheeler, who teaches a graduate journalism program at the University of Illinois at Springfield.
Indeed, the audit further stated that these statistics were inaccurate. When auditors took a sample of 48 files- 19 percent of those who were labeled as undocumented immigrants were documented. This caused the state to lose out on federal funding for these mislabels.
The Department of Healthcare and Family Services could not be reached regarding the inaccuracies of the program.
According to the FY2013 budget summary, Illinois has paid just over $425,000 into the Medicaid Fraud and Abuse Prevention Fund since FY2004.
At one point, Brown drafted a bill in response to the audit that would exclude children who are undocumented immigrants from the being covered under the Covering ALL KIDS Health Insurance Act.
He did not propose the bill in committee because he said he wanted his constituents and fellow legislators to fully understand how he was trying to alleviate the state deficit.
But Wheeler wasn’t sure that a bill like this would alleviate the state budget.
“Politically, conservatives like to believe that people come here illegally and sponge off the system—a person who believes this without looking into it has got to be an idiot,” said Wheeler.
“Anyone who stops and thinks about it for a moment knows it doesn’t make sense— if [an undocumented immigrant] goes to the store to buy groceries, does he not have to pay taxes? Does he say, ‘No I’m an illegal immigrant and ask not to be taxed?” he questioned.