Massachusetts Reduces Some State Health Care To Five-Year Legal Residents. Fair?

Deval Patrick
Mass. governor Deval Patrick, Image via Wikipedia

Does this seem like a smart compromise? Now only legal immigrants who have lived in Massachusetts for more than five years with a green card can receive dental, hospice or skilled nursing care, reports today’s New York Times. Some of the rest will now face stiff new co-pays — up to $50 for non-generic prescription drugs, instead of $1 to $3 — and have to find new doctors.

Under the state’s three-year-old law requiring all residents to have universal health coverage, the state has the country’s lowest percentage of uninsured residents, 2.6 percent, versus a national average of 15 percent.

The state, says Governor Patrick Deval, has to save money somewhere and this is where they’ve drawn the line. Last in, first out. The move will affect 31,000 immigrants.

As someone who moved to N.H. and then to N.Y., and who had has a green card for 21 years, this wouldn’t affect me, but this decision bothers me. As anyone who comes to a new country can very quickly and painfully discover, a terrific job like the one(s) you might have had in your home country can prove extremely elusive. Your credentials and training, lengthy resume and excellent skills can — like your native currency — suddenly and surprisingly plummet in value when you make the enormous decision to move to the U.S. and stay. A recession, a job loss, a prolonged job search, a thin social safety net, all these affect new immigrants, at a wide range of skill and educational levels, not just dishwashers and other low-wage, low-skill work, the ones most often portrayed as the only immigrants.

In those first five years, many immigrants are trying to gain, or regain, their economic footing, make new friends, create some sense of security and community. It’s the worst possible time to lose whatever few government benefits are actually available to them. Under a 1996 federal law, immigrants do not qualify for Medicaid or other federal aid. It’s your wallet, the state’s wallet or your employer’s wallet.

If all three are empty, tough luck.

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