Texas Gov. Rick Perry, stung by opponents for allowing in-state college tuition for children of illegals, has leaped on reports that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s signature healthcare measure gave free care to undocumented immigrants.
“Governor Romney’s government-mandated healthcare plan provided free care for illegal immigrants in Massachusetts, establishing just the kind of illegal immigration magnet Governor Romney claims to oppose,” Perry spokesman Mark Miner said.
“Program rules established by the Romney administration in 2004 clearly state that citizenship is not required for free healthcare and subsidies, and health centers cannot consider citizenship before rendering that free care.”
The Perry campaign was referring to reports in the Los Angeles Times
that the healthcare plan that Romney promoted and signed into law in 2006 and known colloquially as Romneycare included the Health Safety Net. The provision allowed those without insurance, including undocumented immigrants, to go to a clinic or hospital and receive subsidized care at virtually no cost.
In recent debates and statements, Romney has been attacking Perry for the in-state tuition measure, calling it a “magnet” for illegals. Perry has begun to counter the charges. At the recent debate in Las Vegas, Perry attacked Romney for being part of the magnet problem.
“And the magnet is called jobs,” he said at the start of a lengthy and testy exchange. “And those people that hire illegals ought to be penalized. And Mitt, you lose all of your standing, from my perspective, because you hired illegals in your home and you knew about it for a year. And the idea that you stand here before us and talk about that you're strong on immigration is on its face the height of hypocrisy.”
Perry was referring to Romney’s hiring of a lawn care company that employed illegals. The Los Angeles Times report gave Perry further ammunition.
When questioned about the scope of the healthcare measure, the Romney campaign referred the Times to Tim Murphy, Romney’s former state health and human services secretary.
"Our view when we signed the law was that all benefits would be for people in the commonwealth who were here legally," Murphy told the paper, adding that regulations implementing the program were written after Romney’s term ended.
"Federal law requires emergency medical care for illegal immigrants,” Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said. “And if illegal immigrants are getting access to additional healthcare in Massachusetts, it's liberal Gov. Deval Patrick that has made it easier for them to do so. All of the regulatory activities involving the Health Safety Net Fund, including who could get care, were made long after Mitt Romney left office."
However, the Times reported that, although the law bars undocumented immigrants from getting certain health benefits, it does not prohibit them from receiving aid through the Health Safety Net.
"There is no question that lots of different kinds of people, including undocumented immigrants, obtain medically necessary services as result of this program," John McDonough, a former consumer advocate who worked extensively on the healthcare effort in Massachusetts, told the Times.
Perry’s spokesman Miner said, “When faced with the illegal immigrant benefits this morning, the Romney campaign tried to deny indisputable facts and to cover their tracks by blaming Gov. Patrick. The truth is Gov. Romney's plan intended to provide free healthcare to illegal immigrants, and the law and rules he approved were clear about providing free health care to illegal immigrants.”
The campaign charged that Romney’s campaign is falsely claiming that provisions referenced in the Times’ story were implemented after Romney left office. Perry’s campaign said the Massachusetts Free Care website was updated three days after Romney signed the law.
Under “Am I eligible?” the site clearly states: “Your citizenship or immigration status does not affect your eligibility.”
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