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Medicare to non-citizens proposed in Nevada bill

Updated March 16, 2023 - 9:13 pm

CARSON CITY — State Sen. Fabian Doñate vowed Thursday to introduce legislation that would expand Medicaid coverage to all people in Nevada, regardless of their citizenship status.

Joined by advocates and health care providers, Doñate, D-Las Vegas, vowed for a second time since the beginning of the legislative session to introduce the legislation.

“Nevadans deserve a state that looks out for them, where you don’t have to worry about leaving the state to receive the care that you need, or wonder how you’ll pay for your medical bills because of the lack of health insurance coverage,” Doñate said. “No Nevadan gets left behind. No one is forgotten.”

The proposed legislation, named the Health Opportunities Planning and Expansion Act, or HOPE, is set to be introduced before Monday’s bill introduction deadline.

Outside of its provision mandating Medicaid coverage for individuals regardless of their citizenship status, the bill would also create and fund the Nevada Innovation Hub, a repository of state collected data meant to aid in job growth.

The Las Vegas senator first pitched the idea during a Latino Legislative Caucus news conference on the first day of the 2023 legislative session.

Rico Ocampo, an organizer with nonprofit Make the Road Nevada, shared the story of his older brother’s death from stage IV pancreatic cancer at just 17. Because of their immigration status, his family was unable to qualify for Medicaid and were slammed with medical bills, causing them to lose their home.

“He died as an undocumented person, a tragic reminder of how the country that I call home will gladly take our labor but deny our humanity,” Ocampo said. “After my brother’s death we were left with an overwhelming debt toll totaling over $300,000.”

Dr. Maria Fernandez, a family medicine doctor with Community Family medicine, spoke about her own experience treating undocumented citizens, who often don’t seek treatment until health issues have reached dire straits.

“Those are just two small examples of how the health care system has basically failed undocumented community members in our society and how if they had sought treatment earlier, if they had access to treatment and appropriate care that they would have prevented some major catastrophic outcomes,” Fernandez said.

According to data collected by the Guinn Center, a nonpartisan research center, approximately 14 percent of the state population was uninsured in 2017, a third of which were non-citizens.

Doñate estimated that the bill would cost the state $78.5 million annually. He has requested four bills related to health care this session, only two of which have been drafted so far by legislative lawyers. The language of the HOPE Act is still pending.

But the policy could be costly for Nevadans, according to Nevada Policy Research Institute Outreach and Coaltions Director Marcos Lopez.

“While providing healthcare to all individuals, regardless of their legal status, may seem like a compassionate policy, expanding Medicaid to illegal immigrants in Nevada could have unintended negative consequences aside from budgetary concerns by incentivizing illegal immigration, straining the healthcare system, and diverting resources from other critical areas,” Lopez said in an emailed statement.

The state Senate Republican caucus declined to offer a comment on the legislation.

Contact Taylor R. Avery at TAvery@reviewjournal.com. Follow @travery98 on Twitter.

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