ALBANY – Republicans in the state Senate are claiming that the new federal immigration order could end up costing New York as much as $2 billion in Medicaid costs.

In a letter Monday, Republican Leader Dean Skelos estimated that as many as 300,000 immigrants could enroll in Medicaid under the federal policies ordered last month by President Obama.

“New York state will likely be forced to cover 100 percent of the cost because these newly protected immigrants are not eligible for federal funds,” Skelos, R-Nassau County, wrote to Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand.

Immigration rights groups and fiscal experts questioned Skelos’ projections, saying he is assuming that everyone eligible would apply. Other estimates put the impact on New York Medicaid program at about $1 billion or less.

“While Skelos could be accused of exaggerating for political effect, a much more cautious estimate still yields a significant impact in the context of New York’s Medicaid budget,” E.J. McMahon, president of the conservative Empire Center for State Policy, wrote on his blog Tuesday.

The state has yet to weigh in on what the cost of the new immigration rules will have on New York, which has a large immigrant population. The state Department of Health on Thursday said it was reviewing the president’s order.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo will release his budget proposal in late January for the fiscal year that starts April 1.

New York has the most expansive and expensive Medicaid program in the nation. It costs $58 billion a year and has more than 5 million enrollees.

Under the Affordable Care Act, 55 percent of the nearly 1 million enrollees in New York this year enrolled in Medicaid, the federal program for the poor and disabled, a state report in June showed.

Unlike some states, New York is required to provide Medicaid to immigrants under Obama’s order because of a 2001 state Court of Appeals decision on eligibility rules.

But it won’t be near the 300,000 new enrollees Skelos estimated, some experts said. For one, New York’s Medicaid program already covers children and pregnant women, regardless of immigration status.

Also, the federal rules will allow some immigrants to be covered by private and employer-based insurance once they have work permits, while others would exceed the income eligibility for Medicaid.

Schumer spokesman Max Dworin said the better solution is for the Republican-controlled House to pass immigration reforms.

“It would fix our broken immigration system and ensure that those not yet legal pay taxes and a fine, learn English and get in line behind those already waiting in the immigration system for legal status,” Dworin said in a statement.

Jackie Vimo, director of regional advocacy for the New York Immigration Coalition, said the new rules would provide health insurance to people who didn’t have it — which would be a cost savings over the long term.

New York spent $528 million in 2011 on emergency Medicaid expenses for nearly 30,000 illegal immigrants, Kaiser Health News estimated last year.

“It just doesn’t make sense to have a health-care system where you have a large portion of the population using the emergency rooms to access health care services,” Vimo said. “Part of the health-care reform was about reducing the number of uninsured nationally.”

© 2014 Gannett News Service

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