New York state officials are taking additional steps this month that could lead to expanding health care coverage for more undocumented residents living in the state.
It's a long-sought move, and one that could come with tapping into unspent federal money through a Medicaid waiver process. And the proposal comes as the heated debate over immigration has taken center stage as more migrants, many seeking asylum status in the U.S., are coming to New York.
About one million New York residents lack health insurance coverage overall, and undocumented adults are considered the so-called "last mile" of people not yet with insurance.
Currently, health care coverage in New York is provided to undocumented immigrants ages 0-19 and for people 64 and older as well as coverage for pregnancy.
"Once you turn 19 until you turn 64, if you're not pregnant, you're not getting care," said state Assemblymember Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas, a Queens Democrat.
Gov. Kathy Hochul and New York lawmakers in letters asked federal health officials for guidance in how to expand health coverage for undocumented adults through the Medicaid waiver process.
"We have an opportunity to do it not with a state cost, but at a federal government cost," Gonzalez-Rojas said. "So there's a real opportunity to make our state healthier and make sure we're saving money in emergency Medicaid costs."
Senate Health Committee Chairman Gustavo Rivera says extending health care coverage to more undocumented people would help save the state money.
"If somebody is undocumented, doesn't have any type of insurance, that person gets sick, they wind up in the emergency room," said Rivera, a Democrat from the Bronx. "Somebody has to pay for it, right now the state is paying for it."
And the push comes as thousands of migrants have come to New York. If they establish asylum status and other residency rules, they could qualify for coverage.
"Asylum seekers can establish residence like any other undocumented person who already has to demonstrate residence for other benefits would be able to get it if we were able to get the federal waiver," Rivera said.
But Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Robert Ortt, have been opposed to the proposals to extend health coverage to more undocumented immigrants amid the heated debate over the issue.
"The people coming in don't live here, they aren't citizens," Ortt said, "and the people who are here are going in the other direction."