In a recent ad, Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va., tags his primary rival for a U.S. Senate seat as someone who handed out freebies to undocumented immigrants.
In the ad against West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, a narrator says, “In Congress, Morrisey wrote the health care law giving free health care to illegals.”
Accompanying this audio is screen text saying, “Morrisey’s Law: $1 billion for ‘health services … to undocumented aliens.'”
The ad is talking about the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement and Modernization Act of 2003. But the ad leaves out important context about two issues — how much of the law Morrisey wrote, and whether the legislation really gave “free health care to illegals.”
Morrisey wasn’t a member of Congress in 2003. Rather, he was a staff member for the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Staff can play an important role in writing legislation, but it would be more accurate to say that Morrisey, along with other staff members and lawmakers, “helped” write the bill collectively.
“He could no more dictate the content of legislation than Evan Jenkins’ own congressional staff can,” the Morrisey campaign said in a statement. “It defies credulity to claim one congressional staffer wrote all the details of a major 416-page bill.”
The law would have involved many authors at one point or another. A bill of that complexity goes through many revisions in committee, on the floor, and sometimes (as it did in this case) in a joint House-Senate conference committee that hammers out a unified text for both chambers to vote on. The bill ultimately passed with the overwhelming support of House Republicans and signed by President George W. Bush.
All of that said, Morrisey has described his own efforts as drafting major health care legislation.
When he was running for attorney general, Morrisey ran an ad and said in an interview that he “drafted Medicare and Medicaid laws.”
Morrisey offered a more nuanced characterization in an official West Virginia government “Blue Book” in 2016: “Between 1999 and 2004, Morrisey served as the Deputy Staff Director and Chief Health Care Counsel to the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee, helping draft and negotiate major legislation including the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003.”
And in a press release when he joined a law firm, a portion of the text said that he “was a principal staff author and negotiator of the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement and Modernization Act of 2003.”
The charge that the law gave free health care to people in the country illegally refers to the law’s section 1011, titled, “Federal Reimbursement of Emergency Health Services Furnished to Undocumented Aliens.”
This section of the law sets aside $250 million a year for four years to reimburse health care providers for the otherwise unreimbursed costs of providing emergency care to undocumented immigrants.
So this section certainly addresses the question of undocumented immigrants. However, the ad’s framing is misleading, several health policy specialists told PolitiFact.
The 2003 law didn’t give “free health care to illegals.” Rather, a previous law did: the Emergency Medical Treatment & Labor Act, signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1986 to ensure public access to emergency services regardless of ability to pay.
The 2003 law addresses reimbursements for care that fell under the category of the 1986 law.
That brings us to the second complication: The law doesn’t give anything to undocumented immigrants per se. Instead, it compensates health care providers.
And a third issue: The term “free health care” is overly expansive. Undocumented immigrants did not get full health care coverage from this law. The law’s reach is limited to emergency care.
The Jenkins campaign dissented from this analysis, calling it “overly literal.” The Jenkins camp argued that the 2003 law went further than the 1986 law by actually committing money. They added that no one doubts that Medicare provides health care to senior citizens even though the payments are made to health care providers rather than the seniors themselves.
Finally, they said, emergency care may be a subset of health care, but for undocumented immigrants, it may be the only health care they receive.
We should note one additional point: While the provision on undocumented immigrants was indeed part of the 2003 law, the main thrust of the law was to create the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit. So Morrisey could easily counter that he helped write a law that provided West Virginia seniors with important prescription drug coverage.
The Jenkins ad said, “In Congress, Morrisey wrote the health care law giving free health care to illegals.”
It’s a bit of an exaggeration to say that Morrisey “wrote” the 2003 law, but on occasion, Morrisey himself has used similar language to describe his accomplishments as a congressional staffer.
However, it’s misleading to say that the 2003 law gave “free health care to illegals.” The law primarily created the Medicare prescription drug program. One of its sections addressed reimbursement for the care of patients who could not afford services (including immigrants) for hospitals that had already been mandated under a 1986 statute. Also, it addressed emergency care only, not a full suite of health care services.
We rate the statement Mostly False.
This article was originally published on PolitiFact.