WELFARE REFORM: Drives Eligible Immigrants from Medicaid
The 1996 welfare reform law has had the unintended, "chilling effect" of discouraging many Medicaid-eligible immigrants from using public benefits, according to a new Urban Institute study. Authors Michael Fix and Jeffrey Passel concluded that "noncitizens accounted for a disproportionately large share of the overall decline in welfare caseloads that occurred between 1994 and 1997." Specifically, the authors found that the use of benefits, including Medicaid, dropped 35% among noncitizen households during that period, compared to a 15% decline among citizen households. While immigrants' welfare usage rates dropped faster than citizens', noncitizens remained the largest percentage of those receiving benefits, "both before and after" the law was enacted. And among noncitizens, refugees "had substantially higher usage rates of cash welfare, food stamps and Medicaid than noncitizens in general." In 1997, nearly 25% of refugees used the benefits, down from one-third in 1994 but still well above the rate for all noncitizens. Fix and Passel concluded that the law probably discouraged "immigrants from using health, nutrition or other types of benefits," including enrolling children in health insurance programs, "despite the fact that many remain eligible." The Washington Post reports that the Clinton administration will likely use the study to bolster its efforts to restore health and welfare benefits to legal immigrants (Branigin, 3/9).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.