Sánchez, Cárdenas, Bennet Lead 47 Colleagues in Urging Administration to Ensure Undocumented Immigrants Can Receive COVID-19 Care

March 19, 2021
Press Release
Bicameral Letter Requests Clarified Guidance from HHS, CMS To Secure Emergency Medicaid Coverage of COVID-19 Testing, Treatment, and Vaccinations

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Representatives Linda T. Sánchez (D-CA), Tony Cárdenas (D-CA), and U.S. Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) led 10 Senate and 37 House Democratic colleagues in urging the Biden Administration to ensure undocumented immigrants across the country can receive Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) testing, treatment, and vaccinations at no cost through emergency Medicaid. In a letter to Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Xavier Becerra and Acting Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Liz Richter, the lawmakers requested CMS issue necessary guidance clarifying that emergency Medicaid -- which helps ensure undocumented individuals without health coverage can receive access to critical care -- can provide coverage of COVID-19-related care.

“In light of President Biden’s focus on equity in response to the pandemic, we hope that you will move swiftly to ensure that all individuals can receive COVID-19 care, without worrying how they will pay for it,” wrote Sánchez, Cárdenas, Bennet, and their colleagues in the letter. 

Despite nearly half of undocumented immigrants lacking health insurance, immigrants have served on the COVID-19 frontlines, with over two-thirds of undocumented workers serving in essential jobs. While the American Rescue Plan Act, which President Joe Biden signed into law last week, secured COVID-19 related coverage for uninsured Americans under Medicaid, the lawmakers stressed the need to clarify the application of the mandate to emergency Medicaid.

“Providing clarity about access to care for patients and reimbursement for providers is more important than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic,” continued the lawmakers. “[E]mergency Medicaid ensures that these individuals are not burdened with insurmountable bills and that the providers who treat them are not faced with uncompensated care costs.”

“We appreciate the administration’s efforts to center equity in your COVID-19 response and urge you to directly include immigrants in that response effort by issuing this clarification,” they concluded.

In addition to Bennet, the letter was signed by U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Ed Markey (D-MA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Alex Padilla (D-CA).

In addition to  Sánchez and Cárdenas, the letter was signed by U.S. Representatives Nanette Barragán (D-CA), Sanford Bishop (D-GA), Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE), Julia Brownley (D-CA), Judy Chu (D-CA), David Cicilline (D-RI), Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Danny Davis (D-IL), Adriano Espaillat (D-NY), Bill Foster (D-IL), Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Mondaire Jones (D-NY), John Larson (D-CT), Al Lawson (D-FL), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Doris Matsui (D-CA), Betty McCollum (D-MN), Jim McGovern (D-MA), Gwen Moore (D-WI), Grace Napolitano (D-CA), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Jimmy Panetta (D-CA), Mark Pocan (D-WI), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), Bobby Rush (D-IL), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Terri Sewell (D-AL), Adam Smith (D-CA), Marilyn Strickland (D-WA), Paul Tonko (D-NY), David Trone (D-MD), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Nikema Williams (D-GA).

 

The text of the letter is available HERE and below. 

 

Dear Secretary Becerra and Acting Administrator Richter:  

We write to request that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issue guidance to states clarifying that emergency Medicaid will provide coverage for emergency medical conditions, including for Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) testing, treatment, and vaccinations. This guidance should clarify that the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, signed into law on March 11, 2021, includes a vaccination coverage mandate that includes emergency Medicaid. In light of President Biden’s focus on equity in response to the pandemic, we hope that you will move swiftly to ensure that all individuals can receive COVID-19 care, without worrying how they will pay for it. 

Emergency Medicaid helps ensure that patients can receive critical care when needed by providing reimbursement for patients who are ineligible for full-scope Medicaid because of their immigration status. Providing clarity about access to care for patients and reimbursement for providers is more important than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic.

There are nearly 11 million individuals in the United States who are undocumented and hundreds of thousands of others who are lawfully present but ineligible for Medicaid because of their immigration status. Nearly a quarter of lawfully present immigrants and almost half of undocumented immigrants are uninsured. Throughout the pandemic, immigrants have served on the frontlines, with more than two-thirds of undocumented immigrant workers holding jobs deemed essential to the recovery and fight against COVID-19. Workers have been more likely to contract COVID-19 because they provide these essential services. In addition to their workforce contributions, undocumented workers strengthen our economy through the taxes they pay and their spending, including over $120 billion in federal, state, and local tax contributions. The availability of emergency Medicaid ensures that these individuals are not burdened with insurmountable bills and that the providers who treat them are not faced with uncompensated care costs. 

At least 12 states have already determined that their emergency Medicaid programs will cover COVID-19 testing and treatment. All jurisdictions would benefit from a clear understanding that COVID-19-related care qualifies for federal matching funds.

Therefore, we request that CMS expeditiously issue written guidance that COVID-19 is an “emergency medical condition” under 42 USC §440.255 and 42 USC § 1396b(v)(3). It should clarify that states can allow providers to bill emergency Medicaid for COVID-19 testing, treatment, vaccines, and vaccine administration and that states can receive FMAP for those claims including for longer term effects of the virus. We also request that CMS clarify that the coverage expansion of vaccines and vaccine administration for individuals with limited benefit plans includes coverage under emergency Medicaid under Section 9811(a)(2)(F) of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021

The COVID-19 public health emergency and the recession have disproportionately harmed immigrant communities, warranting targeted support. We appreciate the administration’s efforts to center equity in your COVID-19 response and urge you to directly include immigrants in that response effort by issuing this clarification. 

We look forward to your response confirming these actions.

Sincerely,

 

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