- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 22, 2005

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland’s top health official said yesterday new rules denying Medicaid coverage to some legal immigrants was a necessary budget cut.

“This is not done because of some frivolous concern but because … we had a financial crisis,” said S. Anthony McCann, the state’s secretary of health and mental hygiene.

The rule, which was part of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s budget proposal and takes effect in July, cuts Medicaid benefits for pregnant women who are legal immigrants and for some children who are legal immigrants and have been in the country less than five years. About 4,000 people would be affected.

The Ehrlich policy change drew sharp criticism Tuesday from Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, a likely Democratic rival of Mr. Ehrlich’s in next year’s gubernatorial race.

“It is unconscionable that you would even consider ending state support for pregnant women and children,” Mr. Duncan stated in a letter to Mr. Ehrlich. “The social safety net in Maryland has already been frayed by your administration, and this action seeks to tear it apart entirely.”

The governor’s press secretary declined to respond to the letter.

Mr. McCann said removing the immigrants from Medicaid was part of reforms that helped erase a $100 million deficit in the state’s health budget, part of the $2 billion budget shortfall Mr. Ehrlich inherited upon taking office in 2003.

The state will now enter the fiscal year, beginning July 1, with a $780 million surplus, though the extra money likely will be used to balance the budget in 2006.

Maryland has had to pay the entire cost of Medicaid for legal immigrants since the federal government removed them from its program in 1996. California and New York are the only other states that continue to provide the coverage for legal immigrants, Mr. McCann said.

He said some illegal immigrants are still covered by federal Medicaid law and that Maryland pays half the cost for that medical care.

Mr. McCann said the state would try to steer legal immigrants into other health care programs and that they would still receive emergency care athospitals. However, he conceded that some legal immigrants could go without health care.

“In the context of the financial situation, we felt we could for [legal immigrants] provide health care in other ways,” he said.

Mr. McCann also disagreed with Mr. Duncan’s statement that $1.5 million the legislature set aside in the budget could pay for the expanded Medicaid coverage. He said the money would pay for prenatal care for legal immigrants now pregnant and in the Medicaid system. Their benefits will be paid through the full term of their pregnancy, Mr. McCann also said.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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