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NY Report: Should Non-Citizens Be Covered for Expanded Healthcare?

February 25, 2009

New York, NY — President Obama is sticking to his goal of expanding health care benefits, despite the slumping economy, and New York is one of the states spearheading that effort. State lawmakers are considering plans to expand health coverage, and a new report says immigrants will be a key factor.

One of every four uninsured New Yorkers is a non-citizen, according to David Sandman, who is senior vice-president of the New York State Health Foundation. He says most of these non-citizens work, pay taxes and want to participate in health care coverage - but most of the plans under consideration in Albany do not specifically address barriers to coverage for these non-citizens.

"Immigrants are largely invisible from these coverage expansion proposals — despite the fact that they're three times more likely than citizens to be uninsured."

Opponents are concerned that expanding health coverage could promote illegal immigration, but supporters say immigrants don't come here for benefits; they come for opportunity. The report found that only one plan being considered explicitly deals with changing eligibility rules, a major barrier to covering hundreds of thousands of immigrants in public programs in New York.

Co-author of the study with New Yorkers for Accessible Health Coverage, Mark Scherzer, says there is significant debate over whether the expansion will cost or save money for the health care system. Cost estimates range into the billions, but Scherzer says there are also billions in potential savings.

"To the extent that you can get people brought into the system and paying premiums, who are now staying outside the system and going to hospital emergency rooms, you are benefiting the system; you are not costing it money."

Some of the immigrants who lack coverage are dealing with disabilities and serious illness, but the report says that none of the plans will likely increase their enrollment to equal that of native-born New Yorkers.

The full report is online at www.cidny.org

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - NY