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Colorado pays tens of millions to cover health insurance of undocumented immigrants in inaugural year of operation

COLORADO (KRDO) -- Currently, undocumented immigrants can get healthcare insurance in Colorado. And in its inaugural year of operation, the state has paid insurance companies $73 million under the OmniSalud state-run marketplace option, according to the Colorado Division of Insurance.

According to OmniSalud, every company that sells health insurance in Colorado "has to offer plans with a specific set of lower, fixed costs and make them available to everyone – no matter their documentation status." 

Non-citizens who make less than $20,385 per year can also qualify for free health insurance, called the SilverEnhanced Savings Plan; in exchange, they get the full spectrum of care: doctors visits, maternal care, diabetes medication, and generic drugs.  If an undocumented immigrant makes more than that threshold, they can qualify for deeply-discounted premiums to also access the full range of medical coverage.

According to Connect for Health Colorado, 9,603 of the 10,416 undocumented immigrants who signed up for OmniSalud qualified for zero-dollar premiums. That data also showed 10,416 is the cap that Colorado funded for the 2023 coverage year. 

Because emergency visits come with an astronomical price tag, it's the state's solution to a growing demand for care among those who don't have health insurance: all who show up with a medical emergency must be treated -- regardless of ability to pay -- per Federal law.

Citizens are underwriting the goal of "health equity" through the state's newly-formed Health Insurance Affordability Enterprise, which is funded by a cocktail of insurance premium taxes, hospital special fees, health insurance affordability fees, 1332 pass-through funds, and reinsurance general funds.

But it's that funding mechanism that has a trio of Republican Congress members blowing the whistle, saying the state-run marketplace plan for non-citizens violates the Affordable Care Act, or "Obamacare," which states:

"Undocumented immigrants aren’t eligible to buy Marketplace health coverage, or for premium tax credits and other savings on Marketplace plans. But they may apply for coverage on behalf of documented individuals."

Congressman Ken Buck, Doug Lamborn, and Congresswoman Lauren Boebert authored this letter in 2022 stating that

"Colorado is manipulating this process in order to violate Federal law and relegate Coloradans to second tier status with respect to health care accessibility."

Letter authored by Congressman Buck, Congressman Lamborn, and Congresswoman Boebert

The letter goes on to state:

"In a country of approximately 330 million people, it is indefensible for the federal government to proceed down a path that could lead to a policy that forces tens of millions of federal taxpayers to subsidize lawbreakers against their will."

But, leaders with Connect for Health Colorado, see it differently. 

Monica Caballeros, who is the spokeswoman for the agency, says the provision brings down the costs for everyone.

"Net-net I think it is financially makes a lot of sense.  It's good for the whole healthcare ecosystem and keeping costs down for everyone, and making sure that they're not using the emergency room as a place to get routine care."

Shoring up that thought, Colorado has allocated $3.5 Million to construct "Colorado Connect," a yet-to-launch online platform, geared specifically for undocumented immigrants and DACA recipients who don't want their identification information or immigration status sent to Federal entities. 

While the public-facing Colorado Connect platform is undergoing its last finishes, users can launch their search in the meantime through Connect for Health Colorado.

"We're here to help people, regardless of who they are or where they end up," said Caballeros. 

According to a spokesman for Congressman Buck, there has been no response from Health and Human Services, the Treasury Department, or the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid since sending the letter last year.  The trio, however, does plan to introduce legislation this summer that would mimic one last session, preventing undocumented immigrants from tapping into marketplace plans.

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Heather Skold

Heather is the evening anchor for KRDO. Learn more about Heather here.


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