The current family separation crisis — in addition to being a legal and human rights disaster — is a health care story.
This week, the Department of Health and Human Services is launching an emergency task force to work on reuniting the thousands of families the government forcibly separated — taking steps the agency usually reserves for responding to natural disasters or disease outbreaks. But without a plan in place for the reunifications, attorneys say the process could take months and some parents may never see their children again.
While some lawmakers have advocated for the use of DNA testing to help match up the separated families, and the companies MyHeritage and 23andMe have offered free kits to do so, many worry that the mass-collection of immigrants’ DNA poses a serious privacy violation.
Lawsuits by migrant parents challenging the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy have also cited the health effects of separating and incarcerating children and infants, which experts says is likely to cause long-term developmental challenges and trauma.
The fear the Trump administration has instilled in immigrant communities is also having a spillover effect for U.S. citizen children. NPR reports that many undocumented parents are withdrawing their citizen children from Medicaid and other government health programs they are legally entitled to use out of fear their enrollment will be used against them. The fear is well grounded, as the Trump administration is reportedly weighing changes to the green card system so that the use of government social programs like Medicaid counts against a parent applying for permanent residency, even if the child using the benefits is a U.S. citizen.
Meanwhile, in Michigan, the governor has finally signed Medicaid work requirements into law, months after the state attempted to pass a version that would have had a disparate impact on urban residents of color while exempting many rural white Michiganders. But the final rules, which now await approval from the Trump administration, are in several ways even more punitive. More than half a million people in Michigan will be subject to the new requirements, and as many as 54,000 people could lose their coverage as a result.
As we await a federal court decision on Kentucky’s Medicaid work requirements, which is expected within the next week, the state is once again threatening to roll back hundreds of thousands of people’s health coverage if the judge rules against it. Adding to the threats Kentucky made in oral arguments to kill the state’s Medicaid expansion entirely, the secretary of the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services recently said the state would move “probably right away” to eliminate dental, vision and pharmacy benefits for low-income enrollees.
And as the 2018 midterms ramp up, health care — and Obamacare specifically — has emerged as a key campaign issue. A majority of Democratic voters rank it as their top issue, and the party is hoping to mobilize them by touting its policy positions. Businessweek reports that 2018 Congressional candidates have already run 9,600 television spots supporting the Affordable Care Act and 17,000 mentioning Medicare.
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