Minnesota extends subsidized health care coverage

Published 9:36 am Wednesday, January 18, 2017

ST. PAUL — Minnesota is the fourth state in the nation to extend subsidized health care coverage to people participating in President Barack Obama’s deportation reprieve program, which is facing an uncertain future.

The state opened subsidized health coverage this month to recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which gives short-term work permits and deportation stays to people illegally living in the U.S. who were brought to the country as children.

“Immigration is complicated, and health care is complicated, so it’s taken some time,” said John Keller, executive director at the Immigrant Law Center, a St. Paul nonprofit that pushed for the change.

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The extension comes during uncertainty about the future of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. Proponents of the federal program say they have been trying, since before the presidential election, to make about 6,000 participants who meet residence and income requirements eligible for MinnesotaCare.

“It’s only a matter of fairness,” said Pablo Tapia, co-founder of the advocacy group Asamblea de Derechos Civiles, or Assembly for Civil Rights. “DACA recipients pay taxes and contribute a lot to our society.”

DACA opponents argue that offering program recipients more benefits incentivizes illegal immigration. They say local and state governments are setting the stage for a showdown with President-elect Donald Trump’s administration, which takes over Friday.

The Immigrant Law Center’s case for coverage was complicated by the fact that the federal government explicitly blocked DACA recipients from applying for health care subsidies under the Affordable Care Act, Keller said.

Minnesota law has long allowed MinnesotaCare applications for immigrants on deferred action, a quasi-legal status allowing recipients to stay and work in the U.S. temporarily without opening avenues to permanent residence.

About two dozen DACA recipients have applied for coverage this month. Minnesota Department of Human Services officials said they don’t have estimates for the number of DACA recipients likely to benefit from MinnesotaCare or the resulting cost to the state.

“Minnesota law permits this coverage for those who enroll, and DHS will work with our county and community partners to assure access for these Minnesotans just as we would for any of the over 1?million people we serve each year,” DHS Commissioner Emily Piper said in a statement.