IMMIGRANT CARE: State Appeals Court Reinstates Medi-Cal Services To Some Undocumented Residents
Medi-Cal must cover prenatal and emergency care for "any immigrant with a border-crossing card," according to a state appeals court ruling issued Tuesday. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that a state Court of Appeals in San Francisco "put on hold" a Wilson administration plan "to end state-funded prenatal and emergency care for thousands of immigrants." In April 1997, the state Department of Health Services issued a letter saying that immigrants "with border-crossing cards do not qualify for Medi-Cal services because they were not residents." The cards allow nonresidents to enter up to 25 miles into the US and are used on a long-term basis by those who frequently cross back and forth over the US-Mexico boarder. The court ruled that the state violated "proper procedure" in issuing the letter. The court found that the letter was a "proposed regulation" and as such required "public notice and opportunity for comment and review." Writing for the three-judge panel, Justice Paul Haerle stated, "The letter 'fills a gap' in the laws and regulations on who is eligible for Medi-Cal." The Chronicle reports that the court "rejected the state's argument that the letter merely clarified existing law" and did not need public comment (Chiang, 8/13).
Viva La Justicia
Tuesday's ruling was a temporary victory for the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California, the advocacy group that filed the lawsuit challenging the policy. "We think that the policy that has been in effect is an Alice in Wonderland-like policy from the governor where the state has tried to ignore the reality that certain people are living here by focusing only on their immigration documents," said John Affeldt, an attorney for the coalition. "The court ... said you have to look at the facts and not just a piece of paper to determine who is entitled to a benefit," Affeldt added. According to the AP/Sacramento Bee, the state spent $83.7 million on prenatal care for illegal immigrants between 1996 and 1997. Approximately 70,000 "undocumented women receive prenatal care annually in California, and thousands more get emergency care," according to Affeldt (Lite, 8/13). The Chronicle reports that a Wilson spokesperson "said that it was premature to make any comments until their lawyers had a chance to review the decision" (8/13).