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Last year's cuts in Medicaid coverage for legal immigrants - which took away health-care and prescription-drug benefits - are ruining lives and destroying families.

Faces of denial

By Kristen Lombardi
Photos By Steven Sunshine

MEDICAID, THE JOINT state-federal health-care program for the poor and disabled (known as MassHealth in Massachusetts), consumes $6 billion of the state's $22 billion budget - and it's the single-largest and fastest-growing line item. In an attempt to rein in program spending, Governor Mitt Romney proposed - and legislators approved - a series of cost-containment measures for fiscal year (FY) 2004 that imposed fees and tightened eligibility requirements.

 

Click the images below for each person's story.

Fe Del Carmen
Trinidad
Ragassa SoriMariano QuezadaMarcelino CruzZhora Khatum
 

By far, the most drastic change eliminated health-care benefits for adult "special status" immigrants - those who live here legally, but have been here for less than five years or are living under temporary protection while awaiting asylum or refugee status. As a result, approximately 8980 legal immigrants across the Commonwealth have been left without basic health care. Some of them are frail seniors. Others are disabled individuals. Still others are parents of minor children or pregnant women whose low-wage jobs don't offer health insurance. All of them make less than $17,964 a year.

Currently, advocates are pushing legislators to restore Medicaid benefits to immigrants who were dumped off the rolls last August. But they're facing an uphill battle. Last month, Romney's top budget cruncher, Eric Kriss, asserted that the state's fiscal crisis won't be solved without a better balance between "givers and takers." To some, the immigrants who've lost Medicaid fit the definition of takers. After all, they haven't lived here long enough to have contributed much in the way of taxes. And the federal government cut off benefits to these people in 1997, which is when the Commonwealth picked up the slack and began paying for their care. Now, however, many are left entirely without means. In the case of a paralyzed Ethiopian immigrant who's lost all his benefits, hospital workers took up a collection to raise $400 for his living expenses. But as the social worker who organized the collection puts it: "What kind of solution is it for people to take up a collection for this guy? Is this how we're going to meet people's needs now?" 

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