Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, is urging President Joe Biden to allow DACA recipients to get health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act, particularly the more than 200,000 who are essential workers.
Castro and 93 other House members signed a letter dated Tuesday pressing for the change as part of the response to the Covid-19 pandemic, saying it would benefit not only participants in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, but also the general public.
The letter was addressed to Biden and Norris Cochran, the acting secretary of the health and human services.
“Access to Covid-19 testing and treatment for DACA recipients and their U.S. citizen children is absolutely critical during this pandemic, particularly for the 202,500 DACA recipients employed as essential workers on the front lines to keep our country healthy and running,” Castro said in the letter.
By rule, DACA recipients are kept from enrolling in the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, because they are not considered “lawfully present.” But Castro said DACA recipients are treated as lawfully present for other federal programs, and he urged the Biden administration to repeal the rule.
Changing the rule also would make DACA recipients eligible for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, both of which are publicly funded, income-based assistance programs. The lawmakers said the administration should make that clear to states after it removes the prohibition.
The rule excludes a pool of young healthy adults, “the exact type of participants that Congress sought to encourage” to buy health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, Castro said.
The DACA program, started by former President Barack Obama in 2012, allowed immigrants who lack legal status but who had come to the country as young children to remain legally in the country, work or go to school. Former President Donald Trump tried repeatedly to end DACA but failed.
Castro said in his letter that rescinding the prohibition would allow about 650,000 DACA recipients to get care under through Affordable Care Act marketplaces.
The letter urged that the rule be rescinded in the first 100 days of the administration and asked for a response in 30 days. The lawmakers said more delay during the pandemic “puts the health of DACA recipients, their families and the wider community at risk.”
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Suzanne Gamboa is a national reporter for NBC Latino and NBCNews.com