MEDI-CAL: Davis Ends Fraud Program that Targeted Immigrants
Gov. Gray Davis has discontinued a Medi-Cal anti-fraud program begun under former Gov. Pete Wilson that "pressed immigrants for repayment of state health insurance benefits under the threat of deportation," the Los Angeles Times reports. The program continued even after a federal directive last year questioned its legality. Davis acted after a "state audit cited widespread abuses and questioned its legality." It revealed that state officials questioned more than 13,000 travelers per month, mostly poor Latinas, about past receipt of Medi-Cal benefits, particularly for childbirth. In 72% of cases, children investigated were found to be legally obtaining benefits. But many legal immigrants said agents threatened them with deportation if they did not reimburse the state for services provided. "I was told they would deport me if I did not pay back Medi-Cal," said Sandra Flores, a mother of two U.S.-born daughters who paid back $6,632 in hospital delivery bills.
While the state has agreed to return about $4 million it collected from legal immigrants, many activists now say immigrants are "too afraid to apply for Medi-Cal and other public health programs to which they are legally entitled." Health professionals say this may result in more expensive emergency room visits, and the spread of disease. Lynn Kersey, executive director of Maternal and Child Health Access, said, "Women in the eighth month of pregnancy with incredibly risky pregnancies are not applying for Medi-Cal because it might affect their status." But Sean Walsh, former spokesperson for Gov. Wilson, said administrative problems with the program could have been remedied, and Davis' decision is "sending a message that we welcome those who come to this country illegally and seek public benefits" (McDonnell, 5/4).