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D.C. Health Program For Illegal Immigrants Avoids Cuts

A public health insurance program that primarily serves illegal immigrants in the District of Columbia avoided the chopping block Tuesday under a budget compromise approved by the D.C. Council.

Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) earlier this spring recommended cutting hospital-based care from the HealthCare Alliance program to save more than $20 million in the District’s budget, which begins in October.  The alliance covers about 19,000 people, most of whom are illegal immigrants.

But District Council member David A. Catania (I-At Large), who chairs the health committee, opposed the cuts, arguing that they would diminish care for an already vulnerable population that should not be treated differently because of its immigration status, according to his spokesman Brendan Williams-Kief.

The alliance was set up to cover low-income city residents who are ineigible for Medicaid, but the 2010 federal health law opened the joint federal-state program to many of those people. That expansion does not cover illegal  immigrants, however, who now make up the bulk of the alliance program.

After weeks of political wrangling, the mayor and council settled on a compromise that preserves the alliance’s hospital benefits through tweaks and trims to other District health programs and an expected increase in federal funding for emergency treatment.

Both Catania and Gray praised the compromise in statements.

“Today’s agreement ensures that all low-income District residents are treated equally and afforded the dignity of comprehensive, high quality health care,” Catania said.

Gray said he is “delighted” the compromise maintains the Alliance funding and protects other health care programs.

“The plan addresses my concerns and the concerns we heard from many community organizations, while ensuring Alliance beneficiaries will continue to receive critical health-care coverage,” he said.

The council approved the budget by a vote of 12-0.  A final vote is scheduled for June 5.