Legislative panel rejects proposal on immigrants

By Andrew A. Green
sun reporter

September 29, 2005

A legislative committee rejected Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s proposal to remove immigrant children and pregnant women from Maryland's Medicaid program yesterday, but its vote won't help thousands who lost health coverage because of cuts in this year's state budget.
Calling Ehrlich's proposal fiscally shortsighted, members of the Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review Committee voted 8-3 against regulatory changes that would have permanently cut the immigrants from the program.

"In the end, it is going to cost the state and health care system more by eliminating health coverage for these pregnant women and children, and will also lead to negative health consequences for them," Sen. Robert J. Garagiola, a Montgomery County Democrat, said in a news release.

Yesterday's vote has no effect on immigrants who lost benefits in the current fiscal year, but it prevents the cuts from being automatic in the future. About 4,000 women and children statewide are affected by the cuts, most of them in Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

The federal government stopped covering newly arrived, legal immigrant children and pregnant women under Medicaid in 1996, but until this year, Maryland used state dollars to keep them in the program.

Ehrlich cut the $7 million program from his state budget proposal, but under pressure from immigrant advocates and legislators this summer, he restored $1.5 million to pay for coverage of pregnant women who were already enrolled. About 750 women kept their benefits because of that decision.

The lawmakers on the joint House-Senate panel also voted yesterday to write a letter to the governor requesting that he fully fund the program next year. Noting projections of large tax revenue increases in the next few years, Comptroller William Donald Schaefer called this week for Ehrlich to restore the program.

Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell said the governor has not decided whether to restore the money to the state's Medicaid program next year.

"The governor looks forward to proposing a compassionate and fiscally conservative budget in January," Fawell said.