New York Extends Health Benefits to Immigrants
New York state has decided to allow all legal immigrants to receive health benefits under Family Health Plus, a new program intended to provide health insurance for the working poor who have incomes too high to qualify for Medicaid, the New York Times reports. To be eligible for the program, which is scheduled to begin today, a family of four must have an income that does not exceed $23,475 per year, or slightly above the federal poverty level. About 600,000 uninsured individuals will be covered by the $1.1 billion program over the next three years. Covering legal immigrants is expected to cost the state $10 million during the fiscal year that began April 1. Previously, state officials had been "noncommittal about whether some immigrants would be eligible" for the program, noting that federal welfare laws bar legal immigrants who arrived in the country after 1996 from receiving certain public benefits. But advocates said Family Health Plus should be extended to all immigrants, adding that without insurance, immigrants would turn to emergency rooms for their preventive care, a situation that would be "far costlier" for the state than if it offered immigrants benefits under the program. Further, the advocates noted that a recent ruling by the New York Court of Appeals found that the state had violated the state and federal Constitutions because it denied Medicaid benefits to legal immigrants who arrived after August 1996. Because Medicaid funds are being used to pay for Family Health Plus, the "same eligibility rules should apply to both programs," the advocates said. State Deputy Health Commissioner Robert Hinckley, who on Friday announced the decision to extend Family Health Plus benefits to legal immigrants, said it is unclear when the coverage for immigrants will begin because State Comptroller H. Carl McCall has not yet approved the health department's contracts with private insurers. The Times reports that the comptroller's office said it could not approve the contracts until "crucial questions," specifically concerning immigrant coverage, were answered (Sengupta, New York Times, 10/1).