Biden expands health insurance access for DACA immigrants

DACA policy supporters gather outside Texas court

By Ted Hesson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -President Joe Biden's administration will allow certain immigrants illegally brought to the U.S. as children access to federally run health insurance, the White House said on Friday, addressing a sensitive issue ahead of the November elections.

With the move, an estimated 100,000 previously uninsured participants in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, are expected to enroll in the Health Insurance Marketplace and the Basic Health Program, both created under the Affordable Care Act, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said.

The DACA program was launched in 2012 under former President Barack Obama, when Biden was vice president. The program offers deportation relief and work permits to "Dreamer" immigrants who were illegally brought to the U.S. as children or overstayed a visa.

Previously, DACA recipients were not allowed to enroll in the reduced-cost plans, also known as Obamacare, but they could receive health insurance from an employer, buy private insurance or in some places access programs funded by states and cities.

"Dreamers are our loved ones, our nurses, teachers, and small business owners," Biden said in a statement. "And they deserve the promise of health care just like all of us."

DACA enrollees will have access to related financial assistance, such as tax credits and reduced out-of-pocket costs under the change, which will be effective Nov. 1, according to a White House fact sheet.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment about any costs to the U.S. government.

Immigration has emerged as a top issue for voters ahead of the presidential election in November pitting Biden, a Democrat, against Republican former President Donald Trump. Biden has sought to balance a tougher approach to border security with policies that protect asylum seekers and others in the U.S. illegally.

Trump, an immigration hardliner, tried to end DACA during his presidency but was denied by the U.S. Supreme Court. About 530,000 people are currently enrolled in the program, which remains subject to an ongoing legal fight.

The Trump campaign blasted the healthcare move, calling it "unfair and unsustainable" and said immigrants in the country illegally take jobs and resources away from Black Americans, Hispanics and union workers.

"Joe Biden continues to force hardworking, tax-paying, struggling Americans to pay for the housing, welfare, and now the healthcare of illegal immigrants," Trump campaign spokesperson Karoline Leavitt said in a statement.

The U.S. economy is expected to grow in the coming years, fueled by increased immigration. Some unions have courted recent immigrants amid labor shortages.

HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said on Thursday that people without health care insurance delay preventive or routine medical care, leading to unnecessary costs later.

While the regulation will give DACA participants access to the Basic Health Program, which serves low-income residents, the change will not open access to two other low-income programs, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, as was initially proposed in 2023.

(Reporting by Ted Hesson in Washington; Additional reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein; Editing by Mary Milliken, Mica Rosenberg and Leslie Adler)