- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 28, 2006

ANNAPOLIS — Some Democrats in the Maryland legislature want to force Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to restore health care for immigrant women and children.

At issue is $7 million that the Republican governor cut from his budget last year, money that would have gone to cover Medicaid for some needy legal immigrants, all minors or pregnant women. Mr. Ehrlich has restored some, but not all, of the funding. A bill first heard by the House yesterday would require the governor to fund the whole program.

“These are law-abiding residents,” said Delegate Victor R. Ramirez, Prince George’s Democrat, who sponsored the bill. “They have played by the rules, and they are taxpayers.”

Federal Medicaid money may not be used for recent legal immigrants, and Maryland was one of the states that continued the program with state funds. An estimated 3,000 children were part of Maryland’s immigrant Medicaid program.

“The immigrants need the medical assistance in the first years after their arrival because they are trying to establish themselves,” said Muhammad Zahid Iqbal of Glen Burnie, who migrated from Pakistan in 2002. His daughter was scheduled for hip surgery that had to be delayed because of the funding cut.

After Mr. Ehrlich’s cuts took effect last summer, a group of immigrants sued to restore the funding. A Montgomery County judge sided with the immigrants, but that case is being appealed and the matter has not been settled.

Supporters of Mr. Ramirez’s bill want the legislature to step in and force Mr. Ehrlich to revive the funding. They argue that although Mr. Ehrlich hoped to save money with the cut, it will end up costing taxpayers more if people without health care show up in emergency rooms. They say that the babies of pregnant immigrants will be U.S. citizens who will be entitled to Medicaid, so it makes sense to pay for prenatal care rather than face higher costs for sick babies.

“For every dollar you spend on prenatal care, you save $3 in aftercare,” said Pam Kasemeyer, a lobbyist whose clients include the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Mr. Ehrlich’s potential opponents in the fall election also lined up to back the funding. Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, who is seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge Mr. Ehrlich, said the cut was unfair and fiscally unsound.

“I don’t know how you sleep at night by providing a surplus by telling pregnant women and children they don’t get health care,” Mr. Duncan said.

Delegate Anthony G. Brown, Prince George’s Democrat who is running for lieutenant governor, called the cut “downright heartless.”

The House committees heard testimony on the Medicaid funding yesterday but did not take a vote. A spokeswoman for the governor, Shareese DeLeaver, said Mr. Ehrlich has restored $3 million of the $7 million and that he has not taken a position on the bill.

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