Report Shows 1996 Welfare Law Will Cost New York, Federal Governments ‘Tens of Millions of Dollars’
Citing a new 50-page report released Nov. 30, immigrant advocates have issues a warning that New York City immigrants -- "sicker" and relying more on hospital emergency rooms -- have "suffer[ed]" from the "dangerous impact" of a 1996 federal welfare law denying them Medicaid, Newsday reports. The New York Immigration Coalition study, titled "Welfare Reform and Health Care: The Wrong Prescription for Immigrants," found that denying immigrants Medicaid coverage will cost the state and federal governments tens of millions of dollars in emergency room costs by the year 2005. "A lot of people are realizing the fact that it (the 1996 law) was a mistake," Rep. Jose Serrano (D) said, adding, "It is not good public policy. It is not good health policy." The report estimates 52,000 immigrants in New York City would qualify for Medicaid in absence of the law adopted during 1996 welfare reform. Under the current law, permanent residents who arrive in the United States after August 1996 cannot receive Medicaid coverage, except emergency room care, for five years they reside in the country. "Ironically, this policy was established so that it would save the government money," NYIC Executive Director Margie McHugh said, adding, "In fact, what our study shows is that it is costing the government money." According to the study, providing only emergency care rather than full Medicaid coverage to New York City's recent immigrants will cost the state and federal governments an additional $29 million this year -- and another $132 million by 2005. In addition, the report estimates that between 2000 and 2005, 6,000 New York City immigrants barred from full Medicaid coverage will stay in the hospital for conditions that doctors could have prevented with "adequate and regular" primary care funded by Medicaid. Meanwhile, hospitals have served an increasing number of immigrants in emergency rooms without receiving Medicaid reimbursements because patients often fail to file the proper forms. Hospitals also have reported problems when transferring immigrants without Medicaid coverage to rehabilitation clinics and nursing homes. "Keeping patients in hospitals longer than is necessary is bad medicine," David Rosen, president of Jamaica Hospital Medical Center and chair of the New York State Coalition of Voluntary Safety Net Hospitals, said, adding, "It also strains the resources of our hospitals, which bear the main brunt of an increased demand for charity care." While Congress has proposed legislation that would restore Medicaid coverage to immigrant children and pregnant women, the bill remains stalled with adjournment looming. In New York, immigrant advocates have "chided" officials for not providing Medicaid coverage to all recent immigrants with state funds -- a policy undertaken by nine other states -- estimating that such a program would cost only $16 million annually. While Gov. George Pataki (R) opposes the 1996 welfare law, he appears "unwilling to dole out" state funds to help recent immigrants. "Immigration is a federal responsibility," John Signor, a spokesperson for the state Health Department, said, adding, "Any changes made to the Medicaid program related to immigration should be done on a federal level" (Cheng, Newsday, 12/1).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.