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Still waiting for House immigration bill: health care still stumbling block

Retiring House Democrat Henry Waxman

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L.A. Democrat Henry Waxman advising Democrats in "Gang of Eight" on healthcare for undocumented immigrants.

House Speaker John Boehner put pressure on the "Gang of Eight" to come up with an agreement on immigration reform Thursday, saying the House will not simply take up the bill emerging from the Senate. Health care appears to be the stumbling block.

The Affordable Care Act provides federal subsidies to lower-income Americans to help them buy insurance in health insurance exchanges.

Los Angeles democrat Henry Waxman, one of the architects of the Affordable Care Act,  said House Republicans want to require undocumented immigrants on the path to citizenship to be insured, just like everyone else. But they also want to forbid spending federal dollars to help them pay for it.

"You can't require somebody to buy something they can't afford and then deny them the ability to get any help," said Waxman.

There is also the issue of emergency room care.

Hospitals have to treat anyone who comes through their emergency room doors. In exchange, they get partial reimbursement from the federal government. Los Angeles and other counties say if those federal dollars stop, it will be local taxpayers who are stuck with the bill.  Officials estimate there are more than one-million undocumented immigrants living in L.A. county.

Some Republicans have  blamed House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi for pulling the plug on an immigration agreement because of health care. 

At a Thursday news conference, Pelosi said she agreed that taxpayers shouldn't pick up the tab for healthcare for those on the path to citizenship. Instead, she insisted that the stumbling block was a requirement that E-Verify, the electronic worker verification system, should be in operation before legalization could proceed for the undocumented. 

After the "Gang of Eight" met again Thursday, Illinois Democrat Luis Gutierrez said things were "moving forward" and the bipartisan group was making progress.

"If political infighting between the parties derails immigration reform we all lose," said Gutierrez.

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