Gov. Deval Patrick announced Monday a plan to continue offering health insurance — albeit in a reduced capacity — to tens of thousands of legal immigrants living in Massachusetts whose coverage was terminated due to budget cuts.
While advocates lauded the effort as evidence of Patrick’s commitment to insuring all state residents, they also raised fears about the quality of coverage, the logistics of the plan’s implementation and what disruptions in service could mean for a population that often struggles with barriers to care.
The Patrick administration had to scramble to find a coverage alternative for the 31,000 immigrants whose insurance was cut effective Aug. 31 after the state Legislature, seeking to reduce a multibillion-dollar budget gap, slashed $130 million in targeted Commonwealth Care funding.
“It’s been a daunting challenge to find a solution that preserves the promise of health care reform for this constituency,” Patrick said Monday during a call with reporters.
Given $40 million in restored funds to work with, the administration struck a deal with insurer CeltiCare Health Plan of Massachusetts to provide coverage.
While the plan will include emergency care and prescription drugs, it will not offer dental, vision, hospice or skilled nursing services. And for some patients, co-payments will rise, according to Dr. JudyAnn Bigby, state secretary of health and human services.
“The coverage is somewhat less comprehensive than the coverage in Commonwealth Care,” said Bigby.
“It’s important to recognize and remember that, as the governor said, $40 million is a fraction of the funding that was [previously] available to us,” added state Secretary of Administration and Finance Leslie Kirwan.
Eva A. Millona, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, commended Patrick and his team.
“But … we remain concerned about disruption in the access to, and continuity of, coverage for this population — particularly for those with providers outside the current CeltiCare network,” she said.
Lindsey Tucker, health reform policy manager at the advocacy organization Health Care for All, echoed worries about the insurer’s statewide capacity.
“We know that CeltiCare is working aggressively … [but] to the best of my knowledge, there’s nothing in western Massachusetts, and the network is pretty spotty really anywhere outside of Greater Boston,” said Tucker.
CeltiCare will receive assistance in service delivery from established local providers Caritas Christi Health Care and Partners HealthCare. The new plan will be implemented in phases to give CeltiCare time to make necessary preparations. Coverage is slated to start Oct. 1 for Boston-area patients, and to expand statewide by Dec. 1.
Those affected by the changeover will not be penalized for being without insurance under the state’s individual coverage mandate, and can seek emergency care through the state’s health safety net program.
As further details are revealed, Millona said, advocates plan to be involved in the process.
“We understand that [administration officials are] doing the best that they can, but some concerns still remain, and our constituents are asking us to be their voice in this debate and in this transition,” she said.
Read the Patrick administration's initial public statement on providing health insurance coverage to the 31,000 legal immigrants whose care ended as a result of statewide budget cuts. The administration recommends that affected individuals with questions about their health care needs call the Health Connector Member Service Center at 877-MA ENROLL (877-623-6765). More »
Legal immigrants with questions about how the changeover in state health coverage will affect them, or other individuals with questions about health care in Massachusetts, can get some answers by calling advocacy organization Health Care for All's HelpLine at 800-272-4232 or visiting their Web site here.
The statewide immigrant activist organization has pledged to be involved in the implementation of the state's new health plan for legal immigrants, providing information on its Web site about its advocacy efforts and about the state's Health Safety Net, which some affected individuals will be able to access for emergency care. More »