Illegal immigrants aged 65 and over will be able to obtain taxpayer-financed health care in the record-breaking $220 billion state budget signed by Gov. Kathy Hochul and passed by the legislature — a move critics say will incentivize the undocumented to flood New York for the benefits.
A provision in the budget allows up to 20,000 elderly residents living here illegally to apply for Medicaid, the public health insurance program for the needy that served more than 7 million residents during the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
An individual would just need to have income of less than $18,754 to qualify.
Medicaid is largely funded by the federal government with contributions from the state and local governments. But US law bars using federal dollars for illegal immigrants, so New York will have to foot the entire $220 million cost to cover senior undocumented immigrants.
“It’s a slippery slope. New York disincentivizes people from ever becoming citizens. New York blurs the distinction. We should not be rewarding people who are not following the rules,” said state Sen. George Borello (R-Jamestown).
The language in the budget does not specify what eligibility requirements will be put in place for undocumented residents to qualify for Medicaid benefits, such as living in New York or the US for a certain period of time. The Hochul administration had no immediate comment on the rules.
But the current state Health Department rule for Medicaid recipients has a lax residency standard. An applicant just has to prove he lives in New York State “regardless of the length of their residence.”
“This is new territory,” said Bill Hammond, the health care analyst at the Empire Center for Public Policy.
“Part of the problem with undocumented people is they don’t have documents. They’re living off the grid to an extent.”
Democratic lawmakers defended the illegal immigrant-friendly policy and said concerns over the costs cited by Hochul’s budget office limited the program to elderly non-citizens. An estimated 700,000 undocumented residents live in New York.
“Both Houses had included larger health coverage expansions for undocumented immigrants in our budget proposals. But the Budget Division estimated a much higher price tag than even the conservative-leaning Citizens Budget Commission, based on extremely high enrollment assumptions,” said Assembly Health Committee Committee Chairman Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan).
“As a result, we were only able to win this narrower proposal. This proposal will expand coverage to tens of thousands of aging New Yorkers.”
The budget also provides post-partum medical coverage to mothers from 60 days to one year regardless of immigration status, Gottfried noted.
Gottfried said there was “no opposition on the merits” to providing preventive medical care to illegal immigrants in the Democratic Assembly Conference.
Assemblyman Tom Abinanti (D-Tarrytown), a member of the health committee, agreed.
“The only way to keep everyone healthy is to provide everyone with health care. It’s good health policy. It was the right thing to do,” he said.
Immigration advocates applauded extending coverage to mom and seniors who are undocumented residents.
“Much more needs to be done, but we are pleased that no longer will we deny our elders and post-pregnancy access to quality, affordable health care,” said Murad Awawdeh, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition.