Senator Bob Menendez, D-NJ, is sponsoring an amendment to the Senate health reform bill allowing states to waive the five-year waiting period and extend Medicaid coverage immediately to legal immigrants. Under current law, exceptions to the five-year waiting period are only waved for pregnant women and children. The “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” would give states allow, but not require, waivers for all low-income adults who would qualify for Medicaid.
If the amendment passes, potentially 600,000 adults would be made newly eligible for Medicaid. Evaluation of the amendment by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) found that there is no cost associated with the amendment.
Menendez’s office said they were optimistic about support for the amendment, which is co-sponsored by senators Jay Rockefeller, Jeff Bingaman, Dick Durbin, Kirsten Gillibrand, Roland Burris, and Daniel Akaka.
In a conference call to supporters on Wednesday afternoon, Menendez’s office said they have “very good responses from Democrats.” A vote on the amendment may occur as early as Friday.
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Sen. Menendez’s amendment does not address the issue of whether legal immigrants will be allowed to purchase health insurance on the exchanges expected to be created in wake of passage of the final health care reform bill.