IMMIGRANT HEALTH: NJ Hit Hard by Medicaid Changes
Federal withdrawal of Medicaid funds for the care of pregnant immigrants "has cut off prenatal care to 7,000 pregnant immigrant women" in New Jersey in the last six months, and has burdened the state's health care system "with a crushing new wave of debt," the Newark Star-Ledger reports. Under welfare reform legislation President Clinton signed in August 1996, prenatal benefits were denied to illegal immigrants who entered the country after that date; labor and delivery costs are still covered. "New Jersey continued to pay its $8.9 million a year for immigrant care until last November, when the federal government finally stopped paying its share," the Star- Legder reports. State Medicaid Director Meg Murray noted that the state 'dragged it out to the last absolute moment" in hopes that the policy would be reversed. Public health officials say many pregnant immigrants, "[f]aced with either having to pay for care or provide documentation of their legal status," are foregoing prenatal care and "then showing up at the emergency room to deliver." Since babies born in the U.S. are eligible for Medicaid, and a stay in a neonatal care unit can cost $10,000, taxpayers pay more in the long run for denial of prenatal care, officials notes.
When It Rains, It Pours
"The new wave of uninsured mothers falls upon a health care system already swamped with debt," the Star-Ledger reports. About "40% of the state's hospitals are operating in the red," partially because of $163 million in uncompensated charity care and the "last frontier of health care for the homeless, immigrants, migrant workers and other uninsured" -- the state's 12 federally funded community health centers -- "have lost $4.5 million through various Medicaid cuts over the past four year and are struggling to deal with the bills left on their laps when two HMOs failed during the year." The New Jersey Hospital Association's Ronald Czajkowski said the immigrant policy is "another log on a worsening financial fire for hospitals." He said, "This is going to swell the number of uninsured, push the charity-care price tag higher and spill over into what hospitals have to absorb from their bottom lines." The Star-Ledger reports that a coalition of Hispanic social services groups, including the Catholic Church, Legal Services of New Jersey, the Association for Children of New Jersey and the Immigration Policy Network, are lobbying Trenton and Washington, DC, to "reverse the policy." In addition, state Sen. Bernard Kenny, ranking Democrat on the state Senate budget committee, said he plans to ask state Human Services Commissioner Michele Guhl about the policy when the committee reviews her budget this week (Leusner, 4/18).