Spitzer Criticizes CMS Decision on Cancer Treatment Coverage for Undocumented Immigrants

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New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer (D) on Tuesday criticized a decision last month by CMSthat chemotherapy does not qualify for a provision of Medicaid thatallows coverage for emergency services for undocumented immigrants andother noncitizens as "morally and clinically and legally wrong" andsaid he would file a lawsuit to challenge the decision, the New York Times reports (Kershaw/Miller, New York Times, 9/26).

Theprovision specifically excludes coverage for organ transplants butleaves to states the determination of whether other procedures qualifyas emergency services, and states and courts have fought over the issuefor years without a definitive resolution. CMS reached the decisionafter the conclusion of a federal audit of the New York Medicaidprogram that began in 2004. New York officials on Friday in a letter toCMS protested the decision on the grounds that physicians, not thefederal government, should determine when chemotherapy is necessary (Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, 9/24).

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Spitzersaid, "They are picking on the most vulnerable populations -- hereimmigrants who need chemotherapy, alternately children who are withouthealth insurance -- and saying to those two groups, 'You will bear thebrunt of our new-found fiscal conservatism,'" adding, "It is wrong.It's bad policy." New York Health Commissioner Richard Daines said thatthe state Medicaid program will continue to cover chemotherapy forundocumented immigrants at an estimated cost of $5 million to $10million annually without federal funds.

Reaction

CMS officials declined to comment on the announcements by Spitzer andDaines. Adam Gurvitch, director of health advocacy for the New York Immigration Coalition, said, "(Spitzer is) doing the right thing." However, Steven Camarota, director of research for the Center for Immigration Studies,said, "For every million on chemotherapy for an illegal immigrant,something has to give somewhere. There's no printing press for money inNew York City" (New York Times, 9/26).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. Youcan view the entire Kaiser DailyHealth Policy Report, search the archives, and sign up for email deliveryat kaisernetwork.org/email. The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, afree service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

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