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Published: 2008-03-26

The Link Between Medicaid and the Immigration Provisions of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996



Medicaid Eligibility of Legal Immigrants

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996 (P.L. 104-193) identifies two categories of legal immigrants: "qualified aliens" and others.

"Qualified Alien" Defined: A "qualified alien" is an alien who is lawfully admitted for permanent residence under various sections of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) including: an asylee, a refugee, an individual who has been paroled into the U.S. for a period of one year, an individual who has had his/her deportation withheld, and who has been granted conditional entry. This definition also includes certain battered immigrants.

States have the following options to cover legal immigrants, as long as these individuals meet the financial and other eligibility requirements of the program.

Immigrants Residing in the U.S.

States are not required to end Medicaid coverage or eligibility for any "qualified aliens" residing in the U.S. before August 22, 1996. If the State Plan already provides such coverage and eligibility, HCFA will presume the State will continue to provide Medicaid to these individuals, until a State Plan Amendment is submitted to the contrary.

o For immigrants who are "qualified aliens" receiving Medicaid benefits (were enrolled in the State's Medicaid program) on August 22, 1996, States must continue Medicaid coverage until at least January 1, 1997. After that date, HCFA will assume that States are continuing to cover these individuals, unless the State amends its State Plan to discontinue coverage of these individuals.

o For immigrants who are "qualified aliens" residing in the United States before August 22, 1996, but were not enrolled on that date, whether eligible or not, States have the option not to provide Medicaid beginning on August 22, 1996. To do so, the State must amend its State Plan.

o For other immigrants who are not "qualified aliens," Medicaid eligibility was terminated on August 22, 1996 under P.L. 104-193, except for those receiving SSI. For these immigrants, Medicaid eligibility continues until SSA redetermines eligibility (see page 4).

Excepted Groups of Immigrants

There is an excepted group of immigrants to whom the State must provide Medicaid coverage, provided the individuals are otherwise eligible. The following groups of immigrants are considered part of the excepted group:

o Refugees -- For the first 5 years after entry to U.S. in that status

o Asylees -- For the first 5 years after granted asylum

o Individuals whose deportation is being withheld by the INS -- For the first 5 years after grant of deportation withholding

o Lawful Permanent Residents -- After they have been credited with 40 quarters of coverage under Social Security (based upon their own work and/or that of spouses or parents) and no Federal means-tested public benefits were received by the individual in the quarter to be credited (or the spouse/parent on whose work record quarters were credited).

o Honorably discharged U.S. military veterans, active duty military personnel, and their spouses and unmarried dependent children -- At any time.

Immigrants Admitted to the U.S. On or After August 22, 1996

There is a mandatory ban on Medicaid eligibility for immigrants who are "qualified aliens" newly admitted to the U.S. on or after August 22, 1996. The ban is in effect for the first five years they are in the U.S. in that status, unless the individual is a member of one of the excepted groups. After the five-year ban expires, an immigrant's access to Medicaid is at State option (for those otherwise eligible). For those who have individual sponsors who sign new, legally binding affidavits of support (required elsewhere in welfare reform, beginning no later than February 1997), States must deem the income and resources of the immigrant's sponsor (and sponsor's spouse) to be available to support the immigrant when determining the immigrant's eligibility for Medicaid. For most immigrants, deeming will not take effect for five years.

Sponsor to "Qualified Alien" Deeming of Income and Resources

There is no deeming of sponsors' income and resources for individuals who entered the U.S. under the old affidavits of support. The new deeming requirements apply to Medicaid in the following situations:

o Deeming applies only to sponsors signing new, legally binding affidavits of support.

o The sponsor's and sponsor spouse's income and resources will be counted when determining the income and resources available to the immigrant they sponsor.

o Deeming applies only to immigrants who are sponsored by individuals.

o Under the omnibus appropriations amendments, deeming does not apply to battered immigrants or to those who would be indigent, defined as unable to obtain food and shelter without assistance, because their sponsors are not providing adequate support.

o Deeming continues until the earlier of naturalization by the immigrant or the immigrant's being credited with 40 quarters of Social Security coverage. Such quarters do not include any quarters after December 31, 1996 in which the immigrant (or the immigrant's spouse/parent on whose work record the immigrant is credited with quarters) receives Federal means-tested benefits.

o Sponsors must reimburse Federal, State, and local governments for the cost of means-tested benefits received by the sponsored immigrant during the deeming period, but excluding the costs of emergency medical services.

Emergency Services

Provided they meet the financial and categorical eligibility requirements, both qualified aliens and non-qualified aliens continue to be eligible for emergency services under Medicaid.

SSI/ Medicaid Connection for "Qualified Aliens"

Other provisions of welfare reform ban receipt of SSI cash benefits for both current and new otherwise eligible " qualified aliens," unless they are a member of one of the excepted groups listed above.

Individuals who continue to receive SSI cash benefits would be eligible for Medicaid under the usual rules. The Social Security Administration must redetermine the SSI eligibility of all immigrants within one year of enactment. Upon redetermination, the immigrant may lose cash assistance if he/she is not a member of one of the above excepted groups.

States are required to perform a redetermination of Medicaid eligibility in any case where an individual loses SSI and that termination affects the individual's eligibility for Medicaid. Those losing or barred in the future from receiving SSI cash benefits will find their Medicaid benefits affected in the following ways:

o A State that has opted under its Medicaid plan to cover non-cash SSI-related groups would automatically continue Medicaid for "qualified aliens" who fit into those groups.

o A State that has not previously opted under its Medicaid State plan to cover non-cash SSI-related groups could, as always, submit a State plan amendment to provide coverage for non-cash SSI-related groups. HCFA is exploring options to permit States to do this as simply as possible.

In addition, a State that opts to cover only SSI cash recipients may still be able to cover some of the "qualified aliens" under other provisions of current Medicaid law (i.e., poverty-related pregnant women and children, medically needy, etc.).

An immigrant who loses SSI cash benefits would continue to be eligible for Medicaid until the State conducts a Medicaid eligibility redetermination (which requires consideration of other bases for Medicaid eligibility for which the individual may qualify) and has found that the individual does not qualify for Medicaid by any other means.

Related Fact Sheets:

Link Between Medicaid and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) - Fact Sheet #1

Link Between Medicaid and Coverage of SSI Children under Welfare Reform - Fact Sheet #2

Link Between Medicaid and the Immigration Provisions of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996 - Fact Sheet #4