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Medicaid measure session’s first law

HB 1086 reinstates medical services for legal immigrants

By Leigh E. Rich

Alternating between six different pens, Gov. Bill Owens signed House Bill 1086 into law Wednesday—the first of the 65th session, coming just three weeks after opening day.

Sponsored by the six members of the Joint Budget Committee, the legislation reinstates Medicaid benefits to Colorado’s legal immigrants that had been cut in 2003 because of the budget shortfall.

It had been a tough decision that cost legislators many sleepless nights, said Sen. Dave Owen, R-Greeley, of the Senate bill he sponsored as chair of the JBC in 2003.

“But it was one we had to make,” he added, acknowledging that Senate Bill 03-176 “affected a lot of elderly Jewish Russian immigrants who fought Hitler” in the mid-20th century.

Representatives from Jewish Family Services and the Jewish Community Relations Council also were present this week to witness HB 1086 become law, though Gov. Owens noted that many nationalities make up Colorado’s approximately 3,500 low-income legal immigrants.

Watching the governor reinstate the benefits, Owen deemed Wednesday “indeed a bright day for me.”

HB 1086 reinstates the medical services for legal immigrants that are optional under federal Medicaid guidelines, effective Jan. 1, 2005 through the end of this fiscal year, after which revenue generated from the Amendment 35 tobacco tax will likely be used as a long-term funding source.

“We will really try to work together in a bipartisan fashion,” Gov. Owens said of Colorado’s budget process, so the state’s lawmakers don’t have to cut benefits in the future.

The removal of Medicaid services for legal immigrants has itself been a rocky road. A few weeks after Gov. Owens signed SB 176 on March 5, 2003, the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Colorado filed a class-action suit, challenging the constitutionality of the law and requesting a temporary restraining order preventing the state from terminating benefits that April 1.

A Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals panel ruled on the case in January 2004—with a court-approved injunction blocking the Medicaid cutoffs in the interim—rejecting the plaintiffs’ equal protection arguments and upholding Colorado’s authority to terminate the services by 2 to 1. The three-judge panel unanimously ruled that Colorado violated the Medicaid Act by failing to follow proper pre-termination procedures.

“One of my top priorities was to restore Medicaid benefits to legal immigrants,” Owens told the press Wednesday while signing the bill and checking with reporters on the current date and time.

The governor then distributed the six pens and shook hands with each of the JBC’s members: Chair and Sen. Abel Tapia, D-Pueblo; Vice Chair and Rep. Tom Plant, D-Nederland; Sens. Owen and Moe Keller, D-Wheat Ridge; and Reps. Dale Hall, R-Greeley, and Bernie Buescher, D-Grand Junction.

“Abel, good job,” he told the JBC chair, though noting that he, the JBC and the Legislature worked closely to get the bill passed as quickly as possible.

“All six of us agreed to carry this bill,” Tapia nodded to his JBC colleagues. No one person, he said, should earn the credit for getting Colorado “back on track.”

The governor agreed.

“Sometimes the bills that get on my desk the fastest are not always” the cream of the crop, Owens said. “That’s not the case (with HB 1086).”

The JBC “did this with their heart and soul,” added Sen. Owen. 

Rich, L. E. (2005, February 4). Medicaid measure session’s first law: HB 1086 reinstates medical services for legal immigrants. The Colorado Statesman, pp. 1, 5.

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