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House Passes Bill To Protect Immigrants Seeking Health Care

The Oregon Legislature. | BEN BOTKIN/THE LUND REPORT
February 14, 2020

Oregon lawmakers took swift action to help immigrants get health care and avoid getting ensnared by a new and widely criticized federal rule designed as a crackdown. 

The House passed a bill on Friday that prevents nonprofit hospitals from requiring patients to apply for Medicaid before they can be screened for charity aid or other financial assistance. The vote comes 10 days before the new federal rule takes effect.

House Bill 4029 is the state’s  response to federal rule changes that could discourage immigrants seeking citizenship from accessing medical care if they are forced to apply for Medicaid. The so-called “public charge” federal rule expands the list of benefits that can be used to determine whether a person is a “public charge, ” which prevents them from gaining citizenship. The expanded list includes Medicaid.

The bill allows a person to apply for financial help at a hospital without being forced to seek Medicaid and putting their immigration status in jeopardy. The legislation allows a person to opt-out of Medicaid applications.

“Recent federal rules have led to the concern that many low-income Oregonians who are seeking a pathway to citizenship will not seek the care to which they are legally entitled or through charity care, due to fear they will lose their pathway to citizenship,” Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer, D-Portland and a member of the House Committee on Health Care, said in a statement. “People should not have to choose between health care and a pathway to citizenship.”

The bill passed the House 42-10 and now goes to the Senate. It comes as the federal public charge rule is set to go into effect Feb. 24. The U.S. Supreme Court has set aside a temporary injunction that allows the rule to proceed while the case proceeds through the courts.

The bill was recommended by the House Committee on Health Care. 

The bill is intended to strengthen legislation passed in 2019 that requires nonprofit hospitals to provide free or discounted care for individuals set on their income, with eligibility screenings.

“We have an obligation to ensure that every person has access to quality, affordable health care,” Rep. Teresa Alonso Leon, D-Woodburn, a member of the House Committee on Health Care, said in a statement. She added that the bill provides “more certainty for immigrant communities.”

At Providence Health & Services, patients aren’t required to apply for Medicaid to access financial assistance, Lisa Vance, chief executive of the system’s Oregon region, wrote in a letter to lawmakers.

Vance’s letter called the federal rule “complicated and confusing.”

“Its mere existence has created fear among immigrant communities,” Vance wrote. “We need to do everything we can to support these families and ensure they have access to the care they need.”

You can reach Ben Botkin at [email protected] or via Twitter @BenBotkin1.