- The Washington Times - Monday, June 16, 2003

One provision in the Medicare bill that comes to the Senate floor today reverses the 1996 welfare reform that barred many legal immigrants from receiving federal Medicaid funds.

Sponsored by Sen. Bob Graham, Florida Democrat, the provision would allow federal funding to cover all immigrant children and pregnant women as part of those medical assistance programs.

The move would cost $350 million over three years.

“Last year, hundreds of thousands of low-income legal immigrant children around the country had no options when it came to health care,” Mr. Graham said. “This bill will go a long way toward assuring that all deserving children get health care.”

The federal government does not cover Medicaid costs for legal aliens who have been residents for five years or less, though states can use their own funds to cover such immigrants.

About 20 states and the District cover costs for legal-resident pregnant women and children, but Mr. Graham’s provision would allow them and the other states to be reimbursed for part of that care.

Conservative Republicans criticized the proposal, saying the Medicare bill is not the right place to address the issue, and some said it reverses a carefully crafted part of immigration policy.

“It doesn’t belong here and it’s bad policy,” said Sen. Don Nickles, Oklahoma Republican.

He offered an amendment in the Finance Committee on Thursday to strike the change, but the amendment was rejected on a 13-8 vote.

Three Republicans senators — Chairman Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, Olympia J. Snowe of Maine and Gordon H. Smith of Oregon — joined all nine Democrats and Sen. James M. Jeffords, Vermont independent, in voting to keep the provision intact.

The overall Medicare bill passed the committee 16-5.

Mr. Grassley said he had accepted Mr. Graham’s proposal as part of the give-and-take of putting the bill together, though Mr. Graham voted against the full bill.

On Friday, Mr. Grassley said the issue is settled for himself and Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, the top Democrat on the committee. But he said he expects another amendment to strike the provision to come up on the floor.

“He and I probably won’t be revisiting it, but somebody on the floor of the Senate for sure will revisit it,” Mr. Grassley said.

The 1996 welfare reforms limited aid to legal immigrants, both as a cost-saving measure and as a way of enforcing immigration policy, which says those who sponsor new legal immigrants should be responsible for them.

Some Republican senators predicted that the provision won’t survive a conference committee, when the House and Senate meet to work out differences in their bills.

“That’s a very bad proposal, and I expect it will be knocked out in conference,” said Sen. Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican and one of those who voted for Mr. Nickles’ amendment.

Others said the provision is worth examining but not on this bill.

“I think when we’re on the [welfare] reauthorization, we need to look at that,” said Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican.

Legislation to revamp and reauthorize the 1996 welfare reforms is a year overdue.

The Medicare bill contains another immigration-related provision — one to reimburse hospitals for some of the costs incurred by treating illegal aliens, as the law requires hospitals to do.

It is sponsored by Mr. Kyl and would authorize as much as $1 billion over five years.

Some hospitals lose millions of dollars a year treating illegal immigrants, who usually cannot pay and for whom no reimbursement is available. Other hospitals have had to close.

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