Legal Immigrants To Receive Scaled Back Health Care Benefits In Massachusetts

Thousands of legal immigrants in Massachusetts will face scaled-back health care benefits, the governor announced Monday.

The Boston Globe reports: "Thousands of legal immigrants facing steep cuts in state-subsidized health care will keep core medical services such as routine doctor visits and hospital treatment under a plan unveiled yesterday by Governor Deval Patrick. The initiative, which also includes prescription drugs, mental health services, and emergency care, salvages coverage for 31,000 immigrants considered to be especially vulnerable because of their low income and their status as refugees who have lived in the United States less than five years. But it comes at a price, for both patients and the providers of care - and it was greeted with an amalgam of relief and concern from advocates for immigrants, and with skepticism from competitors of the insurer selected to cover this group."

The plan will not cover services including dental, vision, and hospice care and skilled nursing. It some cases, patients' medication and treatment co-payments will increase. "And the insurer, a subsidiary of a Missouri company, will probably lose money on the deal. The immigrants' coverage under the state's Commonwealth Care plan, the centerpiece of the state's landmark 2006 health care overhaul, expired yesterday, after the Legislature initially eliminated $130 million for their care to help balance the state's sagging budget. Ultimately, legislators restored $40 million, but it was uncertain until yesterday whether that money would be enough to provide more than emergency care and other limited services" (Smith, 9/1).

The New York Times reports: Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick described the coverage "as comprehensive and said it could be a model for less expensive state-subsidized benefits as health care costs continue to rise. Under the 1996 federal law that overhauled the nation's welfare system, the 31,000 affected immigrants do not qualify for Medicaid or other federal aid. Massachusetts is one of the few states — others are California, New York and Pennsylvania — that provide at least some health coverage for such immigrants."

"Because of its three-year-old law requiring universal health coverage, Massachusetts has the country's lowest percentage of uninsured residents: 2.6 percent, compared with a national average of 15 percent. The law requires that almost every resident have insurance, and to meet that goal, the state subsidizes coverage for those earning up to three times the federal poverty level, or $66,150 for a family of four. All of the affected immigrants will be covered under the new plan by Dec. 1, Mr. Patrick said; in the meantime they will have to rely on hospitals that provide free emergency care to the poor" (Goodnough, 8/31).

This is part of Kaiser Health News' Daily Report - a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. The full summary of the day's news can be found here and you can sign up for e-mail subscriptions to the Daily Report here. In addition, our staff of reporters and correspondents file original stories each day, which you can find on our home page.