Many Families of Uninsured Immigrant Children in Rhode Island Unaware of No-Cost Health Care Option
Many families of 2,800 immigrant children who recently lost coverage through Rhode Island's RIte Care program are unaware that they can receive no-cost, basic care at local community health centers, Providence Journal reports. Officials notified the families in May that their children would no longer be eligible for RIte Care.
The state has not yet informed families that their children are eligible for services at community health centers, according to the Journal. Gary Alexander, director of the Department of Human Services, which issued the cancellation notices, said families would have learned of the option through the health centers.
Rhode Island had been covering the entire cost of RIte Care coverage for the children, as the federal government does not provide funds for immigrants who have been in the U.S. less than five years or are undocumented.
Lawmakers allocated an additional $9 million to help hospitals accommodate an expected increase in uncompensated care, the Journal reports. In addition, to ensure that the children received basic health care services, lawmakers included $1.2 million for community health centers in the new state budget, according to the Journal.
The health department is responsible for distributing the funds to health centers, but more than a week after the children lost RIte Care coverage, the clinics had not received any funding. David Gifford, director of the state Department of Health, said his agency is developing a plan that would ensure the funds are used appropriately but did not give a date when they would be distributed.
While there is no requirement that community health centers in the state offer no-cost services to children who lost RIte Care coverage, many centers already offer care based on a patient's ability to pay and some centers offer no-cost physician visits. Merrill Thomas, CEO of the Providence Community Health Centers, said, "We've committed to taking care of [the children who lost coverage] for now," adding, "We don't want them not to get their shots. But each health center is on (its) own." Thomas said, "We don't pay for the lab and the X-ray and the specialist. If I send them to the drugstore to get something, they're not going to have coverage" (Peoples, Providence Journal, 7/12).