Legislators finalize HHS bill that expands MinnesotaCare to illegal immigrants

A provision in SF2995 would dedicate $108 million to add illegal immigrants to the public health care insurance program for low-income earners.

illegal immigrants
The expansion was first included in a standalone bill carried by House Majority Leader Jamie Long, DFL-Minneapolis. (Minnesota House Info/YouTube)

Minnesota is poised to become the second state in the nation to allow illegal immigrants to enroll in a state health insurance program for low-income earners.

That’s according to a provision found inside an 844-page omnibus health and human services conference report that passed in the DFL-controlled House and Senate on Monday afternoon, during the final hours of the 2023 legislative session. The House passed the bill on a mostly party-line 69-64 vote. Rep. Dave Lislegard, of Aurora, was the lone Democrat who voted against the bill. The Senate voted to pass on party lines.

The legislation expands MinnesotaCare enrollment to all people living in the state regardless of immigration status, beginning Jan. 1, 2025. The D.C.-based Migration Policy Institute estimates about 81,000 illegal immigrants live in Minnesota, but legislators say about 40,000 will qualify under the income requirements.

MinnesotaCare is a state-run insurance plan that services low-income residents. State statute expressly prohibits illegal immigrants from enrolling in the program. But that will change with the anticipated signature of Gov. Tim Walz following party-line votes in the House and Senate to adopt the conference report for SF2995.

The provision to strike that language was lifted from HF96 — a standalone bill carried by House Majority Leader Jamie Long, DFL-Minneapolis.

Long’s bill received just one hearing this session, during a Feb. 8 meeting of the House Commerce and Finance Committee, and never made it to the House Floor.

While immigrant rights activists testified in support of the legislation during that committee hearing, representatives for the Minnesota Council of Health Plans strongly advised legislators to commission a full actuarial study on the impact of expanding MinnesotaCare before implementation.

Despite that, the House eventually adopted language from HF96 into the omnibus health and human services package Democrats first approved last month that will increase overall spending by $3.5 billion over the next four years.

About $109 million of those new HHS expenditures will be dedicated to the MinnesotaCare enrollment expansion for illegal immigrants, according to a spreadsheet for the conference report that adopted the provision. The Senate included language in its version that limited enrollment expansion to undocumented children, which mirrored Gov. Walz’s HHS proposal — that would have cost $22 million. Conferees adopted the House position, much to the delight of Rep. Maria Isa Perez-Vega, DFL-St. Paul.

“Everyone should have accessible health care, just like those of us with a Social Security number,” Perez-Vega said. “We are talking about accessibility to universal health care, and we are starting universal action in this body and that’s something I am proud of.”

Republicans in both the House and the Senate reminded their DFL colleagues that expansion of MinnesotaCare as part of the $3.5 billion increase to HHS spending will come from taxpayers who are already struggling to make ends meet. But they were equally frustrated with what they called a lack of transparency in how the HHS conference committee completed its work so late in the legislative session and left no time for input from legislators or the public.

“This is not the transparency that Minnesotans expect,” said Sen. Andrew Mathews, R-Princeton. “It’s so sad we keep seeing this theme repeat itself over and over again this session.”

“Minnesota taxpayers will be footing the bill for people that have entered our country illegally to come and participate in MinnesotaCare and be a magnet for more illegal immigration into the state of Minnesota.”

Hank Long

Hank Long is a journalism and communications professional whose writing career includes coverage of the Minnesota legislature, city and county governments and the commercial real estate industry. Hank received his undergraduate degree at the University of Minnesota, where he studied journalism, and his law degree at the University of St. Thomas. The Minnesota native lives in the Twin Cities with his wife and four children. His dream is to be around when the Vikings win the Super Bowl.