By Gabriel Debenedetti and Kyle Cheney
January 18, 2016
Millions of undocumented immigrants would gain health care coverage under Bernie Sanders' plan for a single-payer health care system, a detail he didn't include explicitly in his just-released proposal but one confirmed by an aide shortly after Sunday's Democratic presidential debate.
"It would cover everyone, including aspiring Americans," said Warren Gunnels, senior policy adviser to the Vermont senator's campaign, when asked whether the plan would cover immigrants in the country illegally.
That proposal separates Sanders' plan even further from Obamacare, whose framers carefully excluded undocumented immigrants from any form of assistance or access to coverage offered through the law.
The acknowledgment ensures that Sanders' already politically treacherous push for "Medicare for All" will end up entangled with messy immigration politics that have roiled the 2016 election cycle. It also could add fuel to Hillary Clinton's argument that her rival's proposal is unrealistic in today's partisan climate, which she lodged during Sunday's debate. During the primetime showdown, she noted that a push for a scaled-down single payer health care system — the so-called public option — was scuttled during the 2009-2010 fight over Obamacare, when Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress.
Sanders, along with immigration advocacy groups, has long lamented that Obamacare left an estimated 10 million to 12 million undocumented immigrants without access to coverage through the law's exchanges, though aides emphasized to the Washington Post last fall that he didn't necessarily support offering them subsidies to afford coverage. Clinton, similarly, said during the October debate that she'd favor allowing undocumented immigrants to buy coverage through Obamacare exchanges, but not with subsidies.
"I want to open up the opportunity for immigrants to be able to buy in to the exchanges under the Affordable Care Act," she said. "I think to go beyond that ... so that they would get the same subsidies, I think that is — it raises so many issues. It would be very difficult to administer, it needs to be part of a comprehensive immigration reform, when we finally do get to it."
Sanders released the outline of his universal health care plan just two hours before Sunday's debate, an effort to curtail attacks from Clinton that his plan would gut Obamacare, Medicare and a federal health program for kids. During the debate, Clinton insisted she's "absolutely committed to universal health care." But she argued that it isn't worth reopening a "contentious" fight over the issue,
Sanders countered by accusing her of mounting a "Republican" attack on his health care plan by pointing to the taxes it would take to fund it.
After the debate, Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook said he hadn't had time to look over the specifics of Sanders' plan. But earlier in the evening, he said he hesitated to comment on the campaign's decision to time its release so close to the beginning of Sunday night's debate.
Still, he said, "I don't think that's when Lyndon Johnson put out Medicare," he said.
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