Basic Health Will Kick Out Illegal Immigrants Despite Judge's Ruling

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A federal judge this week ordered the state to re-enroll 11,000 immigrants kicked off its Basic Health program. That would seem like great news for the immigrants, who were dropped from the subsidized health insurance program because they couldn't or didn't prove they had been in the country legally for more than five years. "Poor people win," read a headline in the Seattle P-I. In reality, though, a lot of those people probably won't get their health insurance back for long.

The vast majority of the disenrolled immigrants still have to prove they're legal, Basic Health director Preston Cody tells SW. Nothing in Judge James Robart's ruling changed that basic requirement, which was laid down by the state this spring as a way of weeding people off the rolls and saving money.

Robart, ruling on a class action lawsuit, said instead that the state violated the immigrants' due process rights by failing to give them sufficient notice about its new rule. Indeed, as we wrote back in March, the state sent out disenrollment letters before asking for documentation. It just used whatever information it already had on file.

So now the state will give people time to prove their status. Whether they can or not remains in question, as does whether they even want back on. Cody says the program has found in the past that, once disenrolled, people tend not to rejoin, even if they can. They may, for instance, have a hard time coming up with the premiums--low as they are, at between $17 and a couple hundred dollars a month-- if they're not currently budgeting for the money.

If they have the money, there is one small group--numbering some 1,500-- that doesn't have to prove anything more. That is the immigrants who were able to prove their legal status, but were disenrolled anyway because they hadn't lived in the U.S. for at least five years. That wacky rule is used by the feds for its programs, according to Cody, but Robart agreed with lawyers who said that such a barrier to health care coverage presents equal-protection issues.

So there is some good news for poor people. Or is there? Yesterday, Gov. Chris Gregoire came out with her proposed budget. As she desperately seeks new ways to save money, guess what she's proposing to eliminate in its entirety. Yep, Basic Health.

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