David Greenberg, a 59-year-old healthcare administrator, says a new law signed by Bush to crack down on illegal immigration will not only hurt U.S. citizens who need healthcare, but will do the opposite of what its backers want.
The new federal law means that, as of July 1, low-income patients must present proof of citizenship to renew their enrollment in Medicaid. New Medicaid applicants will also have to present documentation, such as a birth certificate. Backers of the change say it will prevent illegal immigrants from receiving federal healthcare benefits.
But Greenberg says that the change leaves U.S. citizens who can't find their birth certificates out of luck. Think about people who are mentally ill, or lost their documents in disasters like Katrina. He says the law also might have the unintended consequence of producing more U.S.-born children because undocumented women who come into Planned Parenthood would need to show documents before getting birth control. WW pressed Greenberg to elaborate.
WW: Why shouldn't Medicaid recipients be required to provide citizenship documentation?
David Greenberg: Although there will be some noncitizens who will be denied services, the vast majority of women who come to Planned Parenthood are citizens, and many of them will have trouble finding their documents.
And you also see some irony because immigration critics support a change that could mean more children of undocumented aliens will be born in the U.S. and become citizens?
Yes. Birth-control services are urgent. When people stop into a clinic, they're not going to wait to have sex until they find their birth certificates.
Or they might not find their birth certificates because they aren't citizens. Don't illegal immigrants who get subsidized healthcare drive up costs for everyone else, including legal immigrants?
There's no evidence that there was any problem with the old system of verifying citizenship. The state had a system of verifying who was eligible for Medicaid, and the vast majority of people answered those questions truthfully. It was an inexpensive way of screening for citizenship. The new requirement is just an attempt to solve a problem that didn't exist. The other irony is that the policy's going to cost the government far more money than it would potentially save by preventing undocumented immigrants from using Medicaid.
The cost of contraception is so much lower than the cost of labor and delivery and the cost of raising a child. For example, it would cost the state about $200 a year to provide birth control to a woman who is eligible for Oregon's Family Planning Expansion Project. It costs thousands of dollars, on the other hand, to have a baby. So it's in all of our interests to try to prevent unintended pregnancies.
Does that mean birth control should be available for free to everyone, including noncitizens?
I think that many components of healthcare ought to be available to everyone free of cost. Certainly birth control is one of those—after all, it's in the public interest to make sure every woman and man who wants birth control has it. The best thing we can do to help people become happy, healthy and economically independent is to help them have the number of children they want and have those children when they're prepared to have them.
But where would the money for free birth control come from?
You know, Americans are not questioning why Halliburton wins multibillion-dollar no-bid contracts or why we have thousands of trailers sitting empty that were built for Katrina victims. If this is happening, why can't we find the few dollars that are necessary to make sure that every American has access to contraception?
Planned Parenthood is also fighting an abortion parental-notification ballot initiative and will host a fundraiser at 5:30 pm Tuesday, July 18 at Ecotrust, 721 NW 9th Ave. Tickets $15 in advance ($20 at the door) at www.ppaction.org/ppor/events/sexytuesday_clone_639004_clone_713001/details.tcl.