U.S. Tightens Medicaid Rules for Babies of Illegal Immigrants
WASHINGTON, Nov. 2 — Under a new policy, children born in the United States to undocumented immigrants with low incomes will no longer be automatically entitled to health insurance through Medicaid, federal officials said today.
Doctors and hospitals said the policy change would make it more difficult for such infants, who are United States citizens, to obtain health care needed in the first year of life.
Undocumented immigrants are generally barred from Medicaid, but can get coverage for treatment of emergency medical conditions, including labor and delivery. In the past, once a woman received emergency care under Medicaid for the birth of a baby, the child was deemed eligible for coverage as well, and states had to cover them for one year from the date of birth.
Under the new policy, an application must be filed for the child, and the parents must provide documents to prove the child’s citizenship.
The documentation requirements took effect in July, but some states have been slow to enforce them, and many doctors are only now becoming aware of the effects on newborns.
Obtaining such documents can take weeks or months in some states, doctors said. Moreover, they added, illegal immigrant parents may be reluctant to go to a state welfare office to file applications because they fear contact with government agencies that could report their presence to immigration authorities.
Administration officials said the change was necessary under their reading of a new law, the Deficit Reduction Act, signed by President Bush in February. The law did not mention newborns, but generally tightened Medicaid documentation requirements because some lawmakers were concerned that immigrants were fraudulently claiming United States citizenship to get Medicaid.
Marilyn E. Wilson, a spokeswoman for the Tennessee Medicaid program, said: “The federal government told us we have no latitude. All states must change their policies and practices. We will not be able to cover any services for the newborn until a Medicaid application is filed. That could be days, weeks or months after the child is born.”
About four million babies are born in the United States each year, and Medicaid pays for more than one-third of all births. The number involving illegal immigrant parents is not known, but is likely to be in the tens of thousands, health experts said.
Doctors and hospitals denounced the policy change and denied that it was required by the new law.
Dr. Jay E. Berkelhamer, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said the new policy “punishes babies who, according to the Constitution, are citizens because they were born here.”
Dr. Martin C. Michaels, a pediatrician in Dalton, Ga., said that continuous coverage in the first year of life was important because “newborns need care right from the start.”
“Some Americans may want to grant amnesty to undocumented immigrants, and others may want to send them home,” Dr. Michaels said. “But the children who are born here had no say in that debate.”
Under a 1984 law, which remains on the books, infants born to pregnant women on Medicaid are deemed eligible for Medicaid for one year.
In an interview today, Leslie V. Norwalk, acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said the new policy “reflects what the new law says in terms of eligibility.”
“When emergency Medicaid pays for a birth,” Ms. Norwalk said, “the child is not automatically deemed eligible. But the child could apply and could qualify for Medicaid because of the family’s poverty status. If anyone knows about a child being denied care, we want to know about it. Please step up and tell us.”
Representative Charlie Norwood, Republican of Georgia, was a principal architect of the new law. “Charlie’s intent was that every person receiving Medicaid needs to provide documentation,” said John E. Stone, a spokesman for Mr. Norwood, who is a dentist and has been active on health care issues. “With newborns, there should be no problem. All you have to do is provide a birth certificate or hospital records verifying birth.”
But Dr. Berkelhamer of the pediatrics academy disagreed. Even though the children are eligible for Medicaid, he said, undocumented immigrants may be afraid to apply because of “the threat of deportation.” And the new policy “will cost the health care system more in the long run,” added Dr. Berkelhamer, because children of undocumented immigrants may go without immunizations, preventive care and treatments needed in the first year of life.
Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein, commissioner of the Baltimore Health Department, said: “From the standpoint of public health, the new policy is senseless. It creates delays in getting insurance for children at precisely the moment when they need it most, in the first few months of life.”
Anne Marie Murphy, the Medicaid director in Illinois, said: “The new policy will be a barrier to Medicaid enrollment for citizen children. If we pay medical claims for childbirth at a hospital in Illinois, we know that the child was born here and is eligible for our program, based on income. It would be physically impossible for the child not to be a citizen.”
Doctors, children’s hospitals and advocacy groups, like the National Health Law Program, have been urging states to preserve the old policy on Medicaid eligibility for children born to undocumented immigrants.
Sara Rosenbaum, a professor of health law at George Washington University, said: “The new policy reflects a tortured reading of the new law and is contrary to the language of the 1984 statute, which Congress did not change. The whole purpose of the earlier law, passed with bipartisan support, was to make sure that a baby would not have a single day’s break in coverage from the date of birth through the first year of life.”*
I go back and forth with Republicans I know on this thing called Medicaid. I don't have enough experience studying it nor using it to make a very educated argument. It falls in the catagory of, "Entitlement program," makeing it, by default, tax money wasted by the government. Without any expertise on the subject, I'm prone to agree, entitlement programs may be a waste of money. That there are lazy, crooked people in this world taking advantage of such programs.
And the government doesn't have much money these days. Record deficit, if you haven't heard. As the atricle says, this policy is based on the Deficit Reduction Act, Bush signed in Feburay. A deficit that didn't exsist 6 years ago... But hey, split milk. We gotta make some cut's somewhere. This victory celebration party won't pay for itself.
But when it comes to basic, timely, health care for children, and not just children, newborn infants. Babies. U.S. citizens. I believe it is our job, in the spirit of improving this country for all, to provide basic, timely care for them. I won't buy the argument that the greatest, most profitable country in the world is unable to, can't, or won't. To me, that isn't an entitlement as much as it is keeping this nation healthy, strong and well.
Please, get out and vote on Tuesday.
*Thanks to I Dislike Your Favorite Team for bringing this article to my attention.