DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: New Program Insures Immigrant Kids
A new Washington, D.C., program that provides free health care for "poor minors, regardless of immigration status" began taking applications this summer, following almost two years of debate, the Washington Post reports. The program, approved by the D.C. Council this spring, "was set up to counteract the effects of the federal welfare reform law of 1996, which bars undocumented, or illegal, immigrants from receiving Medicaid." Kate Jesberg, head of the District Department of Human Services division that oversees D.C.'s Medicaid program, said, "The goal now is to see that children have medical care regardless of their residency status." For District residents who "meet the same income eligibility guidelines that govern" Medicaid, the program provides "core medical services, referrals and hospitalization" for up to 500 children. About 150 children had been enrolled in the program as of mid-August, while 68 applications "were pending." Sixteen states have similar programs. D.C.'s program is funded by a $500,000 appropriation through Sept. 30, the end of this fiscal year, but Washington Mayor Anthony Williams (D) has proposed spending $2.9 million on the program for fiscal year 2001, beginning Oct. 1. The funding boost will expand care to 400 more children and add other specialized services. The original $500,000 appropriation was culled from the District's medical charities fund, which has traditionally covered medical expenses for childless adults without private insurance who are too young to qualify for Medicare and make too much money to qualify for Medicaid. But Williams' plan calls for the city's tobacco settlement to cover $2.4 million of the proposal's cost in fiscal year 2001, with the D.C. Health Department contributing the remaining $500,000.
In the meantime, the "challenge" is to get parents to enroll their children, the Post reports. A consortium of public health clinics and community agencies is alerting immigrant parents that their children now qualify for medical coverage. A Spanish-language radio talk show host also joined the effort, recently broadcasting from a clinic to "entice" people to apply. Maria Gomez, director of the not-for-profit Mary's Center for Maternal and Child Care, said, "We have to convince the community who needs this insurance that this will not jeopardize their legal status in the future." Immigrant parents often are "fearful" that using government programs will lead to their "deportation or other legal" problems. In addition, many uninsured immigrant parents delay doctor or hospital visits because they "can't afford the steep medical bills." But the program "makes sense," D.C.'s Chief Medical Health Ivan Walks said, adding, "All of our children in the District go to school together. To have a group of children that is selectively uncovered puts all of our children in an unhealthy environment. We cannot ignore this population and keep the rest of us healthy" (Moreno, 8/24).