IMMIGRANT CARE: Judge Reinstates Medi-Cal Nursing Home Coverage
An Alameda County Superior Court judge last week ruled that Medi-Cal must cover "long-term nursing care available to elderly or disabled people, who, for a variety of reasons, are unable to prove their immigration status." The AP/Sacramento Bee reports that Judge Richard Hodge rejected the Wilson administration's argument that federal law prohibited the state from covering the cost of the care. The AP/Bee notes that the 1996 federal welfare reform law cut welfare programs and required states to "end benefits for illegal immigrants." At that time, Wilson responded by seeking to end coverage for most or all of nursing home patients with undetermined immigration status. Lucy Quacinella, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, said many of the immigrants receiving care under Medi-Cal "may be legal residents or even U.S. citizens but, because of their physical or mental conditions, cannot document their status." But even those "who lack legal residence may nevertheless be eligible for benefits under federal law, which covers emergency care and communicable disease treatment," according to Quacinella.
In making his ruling, the AP/Bee reports that Hodge upheld a 1992 injunction that "required the state to pay for newly admitted patients" who were immigrants "whose status had not been finally determined but who were not facing immediate deportation." Deputy Attorney General Asher Rubin said the state would appeal Hodge's ruling. "The California statute provided wider coverage than now provided by the federal statute," said Rubin. Herb Semmel of the National Senior Citizens' Law Center "said about 200 immigrants with undetermined legal status were receiving nursing care in California a year and a half ago, with total Medi-Cal payments of about $6 million a year." However, that number has dropped, noted Semmel, "because of deaths and nursing homes' reluctance to admit such immigrants" (Egelko, 8/20). Last week, a state appeals court overturned Wilson's plan to end Medi-Cal coverage of emergency and prenatal care for undocumented residents. Click here to read past coverage of Medi-Cal coverage of immigrants.