U.S. Tightens Medicaid Rules for Babies of Illegal Immigrants

New York Times, Nov. 3, 2006

Under a new federal policy, children born in the United States to illegal immigrants with low incomes will no longer be automatically entitled to health insurance through Medicaid, Bush administration officials said Thursday.

Doctors said the policy change would make it more difficult for such infants, who are U.S. citizens, to get health care in the first year of life.

Illegal immigrants generally are barred from Medicaid, but they can get coverage for treatment of emergency medical conditions, including labor and delivery. In the past, once a woman received emergency care under Medicaid for the birth of a baby, the child was deemed eligible for coverage as well, and states had to cover them for one year from the date of birth.

Under the new policy, an application must be filed for the baby, and the parents must prove the child’s citizenship.

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Administration officials said the change was necessary under their reading of a new law, the Deficit Reduction Act, which President Bush signed in February. The law did not mention newborns, but generally tightened documentation requirements because some lawmakers were concerned that immigrants were fraudulently claiming U.S. citizenship to get Medicaid.

About 4 million babies are born in the United States each year, and Medicaid pays for more than one-third of all births. The number involving illegal immigrant parents is unknown, but is likely to be in the tens of thousands, health experts said.

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