ALBANY – State Senate Democrats have approved legislation to provide low-cost health care to migrants after the federal government agreed to provide the cash.
“We are already spending over a billion dollars without giving any type of regular care to these folks,” state Senate Health Committee Chair Gustavo Rivera (D-Bronx), who sponsored the bill, said on the chamber floor Thursday night.
“So these folks are already here. They get sick. They get flus They get colds. They break legs … What we’re suggesting here is that we have a way to get federal money so it does not cost the state anything.”
The 41-21 vote by the state Senate on the controversial bill — which has yet to pass the Assembly — comes as Albany Democrats push to wrap up their legislative business for the year on Friday.
Assemblywoman Jessica González-Rojas (D-Queens) did not provide comment Thursday night about whether the bill she is sponsoring will pass her chamber this week.
Rivera said the total cost to federal taxpayers is at least $1 billion per year.
“The fact that the money’s coming from the federal government doesn’t mean that it’s not coming out of taxpayer money, because the federal government gets their money from the same place,” state Sen. Steven Rhoads (R-Nassau) argued on the Senate floor on Thursday night before voting against the bill.
Washington and Colorado have already expanded health care for migrants after receiving federal waivers.
Gov. Kathy Hochul has previously expressed support for the idea of providing low-cost health care while dawdling on officially asking the federal government to provide a waiver that would allow federal money to cover health care for migrants, New York Focus reported in February.
But a June 6 letter to Rivera from the federal Department of Health and Human Services left just enough time for state lawmakers to move legislation authorizing a state program that Rivera envisions as seeking a rough goal of enrolling at least 240,000 migrants.
“We appreciate New York’s longstanding commitment to providing affordable health insurance coverage to its residents, and look forward to continuing to work with the State on this matter,” Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said in the letter.
The waiver ensures federal funding for five years beginning in 2024, according to the letter.
State Department of Health Commissioner James McDonald would have broad discretion to determine eligibility requirements so that costs do not exceed the amount of federal money coming in, Rivera told skeptical Republican colleagues during a floor debate Thursday night.
Bill supporters note that the state and local governments could save roughly $400 million per year by cutting down on the costs associated with people needing emergency care because they lack other ways to access medical care.
“The lack of coverage for significant numbers of New Yorkers causes problems for the broader health care system because payers and providers charge more to the insured population to offset their losses related to providing care to the uninsured,” reads a legislative memo.
GOP senators expressed concerns over the potential costs of the program if federal funds dry up and the morality of providing social services to people without legal authorization to be in the county.
“When we look at bills such as this, and we want to signal to the world just how generous we are in welcoming everyone here, I think it’s laudable, but I also think that we need to be very careful as to where those limits are,” state Sen. Jack Martins (R-Nassau).
“I am certainly concerned about what this is going to cost the taxpayers of our state, and what it means for us going forward.”
Rhoads argued on the Senate floor that if the feds want to give New York more money for health care, those funds ought to go toward helping New Yorkers who are citizens or otherwise living here legally.
“We should be taking care of those individuals,” he said. “If we have surplus funds. If there are additional funds coming from the federal government, those are the individuals that we should be taking care of first.”