Everyone’s talking about the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and their imposition into the legislative debate over health care, particularly abortion. The bishops sent a letter to Senators denouncing their compromise language on reproductive choice, saying they would oppose the legislation if that language became the final compromise. They would rather retain the Stupak amendment, which goes much further than the status quo and could be expected to effectively ban insurance coverage of reproductive choice services entirely.

What has been discussed less is the Catholic bishops’ opposition to a restrictive provision in the Senate bill that would ban undocumented immigrants from purchasing health insurance on the exchange with their own money. It was part of their letter:

“Undocumented immigrants should not be barred from purchasing a health insurance plan with their own money,” the bishops wrote. “Without access, many immigrant families would be unable to receive primary care and be compelled to rely on emergency room care.

“This would harm not only immigrants and their families, but also the general public health,” they continue. “Moreover, the financial burden on the American public would be higher, as Americans would pay for uncompensated medical care through the federal budget of higher insurance rates.”

The Catholic bishops may be distorting the debate on health care, and given church-state separation they should probably not be involved in this at all, but in this case, most progressives would actually agree with them, that the exchanges should not be limiting anyone from using their own money to purchase health insurance. Particularly because there will probably not be a very robust individual market outside the exchanges, this basically prevents immigrants from holding any insurance coverage at all, leading to unnecessary and expensive use of emergency rooms.

Robert Menendez has been vocal about getting this removed from the Senate bill, but it’s unclear whether or not he has the votes necessary to amend it.

It’s somewhat forgotten that the House had a conflagration over immigration restrictions in their version of health care reform. The Democratic leadership, trying to woo conservative Democrats, at one point toyed with adding the Senate language, which comes from the Senate Finance Committee, into their bill. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus vowed to vote down the bill if that happened, and as a result the leadership backed down.

However, this fight could spark up again once the conference committee reconciles the two bills. And given the Catholic bishops’ opposition to both the restrictive immigration language and the abortion provision in the Senate bill, one could see a trade-off possible.

Calls and emails to members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus have not yet been returned.