Testimony of NHeLP’s Madeline Morcelle at Congressional Briefing on the Lift the Bar Act of 2021

Executive Summary

Madeline Morcelle, a staff attorney in the National Health Law Program’s Washington, DC office, presented at a congressional briefing to announce the introduction of the Lift the Bar Act of 2021. The briefing, sponsored by the Protecting Immigrant Families Campaign, was held on August 26, 2021.

At the briefing, advocates spoke about the urgent need for Congress to end the 5-year bar on Medicaid, CHIP, and other public benefits this year and why the Lift the Bar Act provides a solution. Morcelle’s testimony is provided below.


Testimony of Madeline T. Morcelle, JD, MPH
Staff Attorney, National Health Law Program

26 August 2021
U.S. House of Representatives
Congressional Briefing
Lift the Bar Act of 2021

Good afternoon. My name is Madeline Morcelle. I am a staff attorney at the National Health Law Program, or NHeLP, which for over 50 years has fought to protect and advance the health rights of low-income and underserved individuals and communities. Before joining NHeLP’s team early last year, I served as Director of Public Benefits Law at the Mississippi Center for Justice, where I worked extensively with immigrant communities.

Throughout my work at NHeLP and as a community lawyer in Mississippi, I have come to know the 5-year bar as a deeply racist and xenophobic force that fuels health injustice across our country. When I think about the 5-year bar, I think back to the people I spoke with while running legal clinics and community trainings in Mississippi. I remember speaking with a recent immigrant and new mother who was diagnosed with complex chronic health conditions and urgently in need of specialty health care. Because of the 5-year bar, meaningful help was years and years away.

Countless lawfully present immigrants of color voiced that they were not eligible for Medicaid, CHIP, and SNAP because of the 5-year bar. Without access to health care and other basic human needs, many immigrants of color in Mississippi and around the country—parents, caregivers, essential workers, backbones of communities—have died during the COVID-19 pandemic. Viruses don’t discriminate, but the 5-year bar does.

NHeLP believes that everyone should have equitable and affordable access to health care when they need it, no matter how long they have been here or their immigration status.

Ending the 5-year bar is one of the most critical actions that Congress can take this year to advance health equity for communities of color and begin to dismantle racism and xenophobia in U.S. health and social policy. Thank you to Representatives Pramila Jayapal and Tony Cárdenas for championing this reform through the Lift the Bar Act and HEAL for Immigrant Families Act.

It is time to lift the bar.

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