Advocates Lobby Legislature to Restore Health Care Funds for 30 000 Mass. Immigrants to the 2010 Budget
BOSTON/State House - Over 75 people representing immigrant, labor and health advocacy organizations spilled out into the hallway during a packed State House press conference where a campaign was launched Wednesday to restore funds for health benefits for 30,000 immigrants covered by the Commonwealth Care program in the 2010 Massachusetts budget. The attendees represented several members of the nearly 50-organization coalition Affordable Care Today, and pushed for enough funds to be added back to the budget as an attachment to an outside section to ensure no loss of coverage for the affected population next year.
About 200,000 people are currently eligible for Commonwealth Care, the subsidized state health insurance program for low- and moderate-income adults. Advocates state that cutting 15 percent of that number - in addition to the tens of thousands of people that still lack health coverage in Massachusetts - will throw the already-stressed statewide network of community clinics and hospitals further into crisis. The Legislature recently cut $130 million for the immigrant coverage and Gov. Deval Patrick proposed a budget amendment to restore $70 million to keep that coverage afloat earlier this week. Opponents of the Governor's move - notably Rep. Harriett Stanley (D-West Newbury), co-chair of the Health Care Financing Committee - have insisted that "cost containment" is more important during a recession than continuing health coverage for the 30,000 immigrants ineligible to receive federal benefits known as "aliens with special status" .
With this debate in the background, Health Care for All executive director Amy Whitcomb Slemmer explained at the start of the event, "We are here to prevent 30,000 Massachusetts residents from losing their health care in this year. I know the incredibly difficult economic situation facing our Commonwealth and the tough decisions our legislators have to make. I also know that eliminating coverage for this group enrolled in Commonwealth Care is not an option. We cannot target a group of legal, tax-paying, hard-working residents based solely on their immigration status."
Eva Millona, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, expanded on the opening remarks, "We are here today to ask the legislature to join us in the spirit of partnership and compromise to save access to health coverage for 30,000 legal, tax-paying, hard-working immigrants, who deserve access to care as much as anyone. We believe we not only echo the voices of our members and of their clients, but of every Massachusetts resident who has a sense of fairness. In the spirit of partnership, we ask the legislature to accept the Governor's compromise amendment to Outside Section 121 and work with stakeholders on a plan to ensure continued access to comprehensive care for 30,000 immigrants.
"In the spirit of compromise, we ask for the legislature to meet us in the middle. The current proposal is not perfect; it creates a new plan with different coverage for residents that pay taxes just like everyone else. Still, it is infinitely better than the alternative: a loss of coverage for 30,000 and an increase in the number of residents relying on the already overburdened safety net health system."
Other speakers from the Massachusetts Hospital Association, the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers and the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization - plus one immigrant speaker who stands to lose health coverage if the cuts are not restored - added their perspectives before the event came to a close.
According to HCFA communications director Julia Christopher, Rep. Carl Sciortino (D-Medford and Somerville), Rep. Denise Provost (D-Somerville), and Rep. Antonio Cabral (D-New Bedford) were in attendance, as well as staff from the offices of Rep. Thomas Conroy (D-Lincoln, Sudbury and Wayland), Rep. Christine Canavan (D-Easton, Brockton and West Bridgewater), Rep. Jay Kaufman (D-Arlington, Lexington and Woburn), Rep. Stephen Kulik (D-1st Franklin), Rep. Elizabeth Malia (D-Boston), Rep. James O'Day (West Boylston and Worcester), Rep. Kathi-Ann Reinstein (D-Chelsea, Revere and Saugus), Rep. Marie St.Fleur (D-Boston), Rep. Timothy Toomey (D-Cambridge and Somerville), Sen. Baddour (D-1st Essex).
Following the press conference, the advocates delivered letters to House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray asking the Legislature to support the Governor's amendment and continue Commonwealth Care coverage for 30,000 legal immigrants currently eligible and enrolled.