GOP Governors Target Undocumented Immigrants In New Medicaid Proposal

RGA Chairman and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour

Yesterday the Republican Governors Association (RGA) released a list of 31 proposals designed to bring down the cost of Medicaid, which is one of the costliest budget items for many states. Unsurprisingly, the plan would give governors much greater control over Medicaid programs and loosen federal restrictions.

The Wall Street Journal notes that the GOP governors also use the proposal to take aim at one of their favorite scapegoats — undocumented immigrants:

The RGA has floated most of the ideas before, but one jumped out as new. Solution No. 5 would “require the federal government to take full responsibility for the uncompensated care costs of treating illegal aliens.” Keep in mind that federal law already prohibits illegal immigrants from enrolling in Medicaid.

But RGA Policy Chairman and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said illegal immigrants sneak onto the program in his and other states and add to its tab.

“Let’s don’t kid ourselves,” Gov. Barbour told reporters during a briefing at RGA headquarters in Washington. “There are people who are getting on the system and violating the law.”

Undocumented immigrants can get emergency care through Medicaid, but they must pay for all non-emergency care and are not eligible for other Medicaid benefits.

Because illegally enrolled non-citizens make up such a small portion of people on Medicaid, the proposal is clearly more about ideology than cost-cutting. Barbour and Virginia Secretary of Health and Human Resources Bill Hazel both declined to say how much it actually costs their states when undocumented immigrants don’t pay their hospital bills, but “Democratic governors haven’t cited it as a significant cost.”

Studies have found that “because most illegal immigrants are relatively young and healthy, they generally don’t need as much health care treatment as U.S. citizens.” According to USA Today, they account for less than 2 percent of national medical spending.

Ironically, Republican efforts to block immigrants from enrolling in government insurance programs means that undocumented immigrants are much less likely to have health insurance than other families, which drives up health care costs when they inevitably show up in emergency rooms to get care. An effort to add legal immigrant children to the State Children’s Health Insurance Program was blocked in the Senate in 2007, and lawmakers added language to ensure that illegal immigrants were excluded.