Richardson's Health Plan Excludes Some

The Associated Press
Monday, November 5, 2007; 5:52 PM

SANTA FE, N.M. -- Immigrants living in New Mexico illegally will not be covered by Gov. Bill Richardson's proposal for universal health care. Richardson, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, has said his goal is to ensure all New Mexicans have access to medical coverage.

However, illegal immigrants _ and some legal immigrants who recently arrived in the United States _ will not be eligible for the publicly financed health programs Richardson proposes to offer to low- and middle-income households that don't have medical insurance.

Nationwide, an estimated 12 million immigrants are living illegally in the country.

As governor, Richardson has advocated immigrant-friendly policies. He supported allowing illegal immigrants to obtain driver's licenses in New Mexico, partly to reduce the problem of uninsured drivers who contribute to higher insurance costs for other motorists.

Advocates for universal health care have made similar arguments about health insurance, saying that medical costs are driven up partly by the unreimbursed care provided to the uninsured.

Richardson will ask the Legislature next year to approve his health care proposal, which would be phased in over several years. It will use a mix of taxpayer-financed programs, such as Medicaid, to offer health care at no cost or at a reduced, subsidized price to New Mexicans who qualify based on income. New Mexicans will be required to buy insurance if they can afford it and employers will have to contribute to a fund that will help pay for subsidized coverage.

About 400,000 New Mexicans _ one in five _ are uninsured. Only Texas has a higher rate.

About 6 percent of the state's population in 2005 was foreign born and not U.S. citizens, according to the Census Bureau. That group includes lawful permanent immigrants, those on student or other temporary visas and immigrants living illegally in New Mexico.

Children who are U.S. citizens by birth and are New Mexico residents _ even if their parents are living in the country illegally _ qualify for Medicaid if they meet income guidelines, said Betina Gonzales McCracken, a Human Services Department spokeswoman.

Recent immigrants living legally in New Mexico will run into restrictions under Richardson's health care plan because of Medicaid limits. They are ineligible for medical services through Medicaid for the first five years they live in the country.

© 2007 The Associated Press