NorthJersey.com

Critics Warn Dropping Immigrant Health Care Coverage Could Backfire

The Record (NorthJersey.com) — Monday, March 8, 2010

BY ELIZABETH LLORENTE
The Record
STAFF WRITER

Governor Christie's plan to drop residents who have had legal immigration status for less than five years from a state health-insurance program has drawn an outcry from critics who warn it might end up being more costly and perilous to public health.

Under the plan, nearly 12,000 legal immigrants covered under the NJ FamilyCare program, which assists low-income families, who have not been legal permanent residents for at least five years would be kicked off.

Christie's staff, who announced the change as part of budget cuts aimed at closing a $2.2 billion deficit, said dropping the immigrants from the program would result in a yearly savings of several million dollars.

But opponents — who include Latino leaders, immigration-advocacy organizations and citizen-action groups — argue that eliminating health care access to thousands of New Jersey residents would force them to turn to emergency rooms, resulting in higher costs.

"It is a disgrace," said Evelyn Liebman, director of organizing and advocacy for New Jersey Citizen Action, a watchdog coalition. "These are hardworking, upstanding legal residents of our state and this country who are productive members of our communities, pay taxes and have the same needs and desires as anyone else, and that includes a healthy life."

Opponents of the NJ FamilyCare cuts have sent letters to Christie opposing the expulsion of immigrants.

One of the groups that wrote to Christie of its opposition was the Commission on New Americans, which was formed by former Gov. Jon Corzine near the end of his tenure to address issues affecting immigrants in the state.

Some of the groups, including New Jersey Citizen Action, are scheduled to be part of a news conference at the State House today calling on Christie not to proceed with proposed cuts to the program, as well as others he plans that would affect low-income residents.

Christie administration officials say the governor had little choice but to make unpopular cuts.

"We cut as responsibly as we could, but also recognized that a lot of people would feel some pain," said Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak. "

He said the cuts targeted "a lot of good programs that serve a lot of people."

"It's not that anybody was singled out," he said, adding that in looking at what could be cut, "nothing was spared."

"Many worthwhile programs were impacted by this budget crisis."

Opponents of the cuts say they will not accomplish the governor's fiscal goals, and contend that they will simply shift costs, if not actually raise them.

"To bar legal immigrants and dump people who are currently in the program is in many ways not just cruel," Liebman said, "but also fiscally foolish."

"There are many studies that demonstrate that when adults and their children go without insurance, they tend not to take care of their health-care needs," she said, "and tend to go to clinics or emergency rooms when they have serious illnesses.

"At that point, the cost of providing that care is exponentially higher than the cost of keeping someone healthy, and the rate that we all pay for health insurance goes up, and also the cost supported by all taxpayers."

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