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What Would Happen If the Government Covered Undocumented Immigrants’ Health Care?

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Asked whether their health-care plans would cover undocumented immigrants, Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, and the five other candidates on stage at the Democratic primary debate all raised their hands.

It was a rare moment of total agreement in the Democratic debates last week. On the second night, when asked whether public health insurance should cover undocumented immigrants, every presidential hopeful there raised his or her hand.

“Our country is healthier when everybody is healthier,” Indianan mayor Pete Buttigieg said. “We do ourselves no favors by having 11 million undocumented people in our country be unable to access health care.”

President Donald Trump condemned the idea quickly, on Twitter. Later, while answering questions from reporters, he said: “If you look at what they’re doing in California, how they’re treating people, they don’t treat their people as well as they treat illegal immigrants.” California had just expanded its Medicaid program, Medi-Cal, to cover undocumented youth up to age 26. “It’s crazy. And it’s mean, and it’s very unfair to our citizens,” Trump said of the policy.

The president’s statements suggest that covering the undocumented hurts citizens—and perhaps, though he didn’t mention them, legally present residents of America, who are also eligible to buy plans on the Obamacare exchanges, and many of whom can apply for Medicaid and Medicare. So is it true that letting unauthorized immigrants in would mean worse care for everyone else?

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