New York Senate approves health care coverage for ‘undocumented individuals’
Gov. Kathy Hochul had previously pitched a plan to seek federal funds for extending coverage to migrants but later walked the plan back
The New York Senate has approved a controversial plan to divert federal money to provide low-cost health care coverage for “undocumented individuals.”
The Democratic-proposed legislation, which cleared the Senate Thursday on a 41 to 21 vote, would extend coverage under the state’s Essential Plan to undocumented individuals with a household income below 250% of the federal poverty line.
“We are already spending over a billion dollars without giving any type of regular care to these folks,” state Sen. Gustavo Rivera, D-Bronx, the bill's primary sponsor, said in remarks from the Senate floor ahead of its passage. "What we’re suggesting here is that we have a way to get federal money so it does not cost the state anything."
Backers say the plan would cost $1 billion per year, and coverage would be capped at 240,000 individuals, depending on federal funding available.
Senate Republicans strongly objected to the plan, pointing out during Thursday's debate on the bill that even though the money would be coming from the federal government, it still comes out of New York taxpayers' pockets. They argued the state should focus on caring for people living in the U.S. legally.
“We should be taking care of those individuals," state Sen. Steven Rhoads, R-Nassau, said in remarks on the Senate floor. "If we have surplus funds. If there are additional funds coming from the federal government, those are the individuals that we should be taking care of first."
Passage of the measure, which the state Assembly must still approve, comes amid a contentious debate over immigration, with tens of thousands of migrants arriving in New York over the past year following a surge of crossings along the U.S-Mexico border.
Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, had previously pitched a plan to seek federal funds for extending coverage to migrants but later walked the plan back, citing uncertainties about the cost and whether the federal government would allow it.
But a recent letter from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to the bill's supporters suggested that New York could use a provision of the Affordable Care Act to request federal dollars to fund the expansion.
The letter noted that two other states, Colorado and Washington, have used the section 1332 provision to offer coverage for undocumented individuals.
The bill's supporters said that New York has drastically reduced the number of uninsured individuals from 3 million to 1 million. But more than 400,000 immigrants don't qualify for coverage options or public coverage through the New York State of Health Marketplace because of their immigration status.
Supporters suggest the state and local governments would save roughly $400 million per year by reducing the number of uninsured people seeking emergency care.
"The lack of coverage for significant numbers of New Yorkers causes problems for the broader health care system because payers and providers charge more to the insured population to offset their losses related to providing care to the uninsured," a summary of the bill reads.
"Even with this cost shifting, the costs associated with uncompensated care threaten the financial sustainability of many safety net hospitals and clinics," it continues.
Under current state law, health care coverage is offered to undocumented children through age 19, pregnant women and individuals 64 and older.
The proposal must still pass the state Assembly before landing on Hochul's desk for consideration. Friday is the last day of the legislative session.