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BILL LAYS GROUNDWORK, BUT FEW SPECIFICS

The statement

"Nothing in any of the Democrat bills would require individuals to verify their citizenship or identity prior to receiving taxpayer-subsidized benefits."

House Republican Conference, Wednesday, in a "myth and fact" news release

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The ruling: HALF TRUE

First we need to explain that there are two kinds of benefits in the health care reform bill that could be considered taxpayer-subsidized: tax credits and access to the public insurance option.

Democrats say the main health care bill explicitly prevents illegal immigrants from getting "affordability credits" - tax credits for low-income people to buy insurance on a national health insurance exchange. While illegal immigrants would be able to buy insurance just as a qualifying legal resident could, they would have to pay for it themselves without the affordability credit subsidy. That's essentially keeping the status quo, in which illegal immigrants are able to buy private insurance on their own dime.

Critics of the health care bill, however, cite a couple of possible loopholes. We'll address the one cited by the House Republican Conference: that the Democratic bills lack verification procedures to make sure that illegal immigrants aren't signing up for the affordability credits.

From our examination, we don't see any verification system, either. And the Congressional Research Service, a nonpartisan research arm of Congress, agrees.

But there are two caveats that keep the Republican assertion from being fully accurate.

The first is, if the tax credits were administered through the Internal Revenue Service, there would be built-in scrutiny. For instance, if a system were set up for taxpayers to declare insurance expenses and then receive a refund or a rebate, illegal immigrants couldn't obtain coverage "because illegal immigrants do not have legitimate Social Security numbers," said Marc Rosenblum, a senior policy analyst with the Migration Policy Institute, a group that is generally pro-immigration.

The second caveat is that language in the House bill does provide clear authority for the new government official who would run the exchange to set up that verification, as the Congressional Research Service report notes.

Now for the second issue: access to the public option. Many Republicans have argued that while the bill bars illegal immigrants from getting the affordability credits, it still permits them to take part in the public option. We believe that reading is correct, but nothing we've seen so far has persuaded us that the public option would provide subsidized care.

So let's recap. There is explicit language in the House bill that says illegal immigrants should not receive subsidized benefits. But we find that the Republican conference is right in that the legislation does not directly mention verification procedures and, for that reason, it's possible that illegal immigrants who are determined to beat the system might be able to. But it's likely that the IRS would, at least indirectly, help police that. And, the health choices commissioner would have the authority to set up a verification system. On balance, we rate the Republican claim Half True.

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