State spent $93 million on illegal immigrants

— File photo by Mae Deary

About 1 percent of the $9.6 billion the state spent on Medicaid claims last fiscal year covered services for immigrants who couldn’t prove their legal status, according to figures released by the Patrick administration in response to a Republican lawmaker who had threatened to hold up a key spending bill earlier this month until he got the data he requested.

In a letter to the lawmaker, Rep. James Lyons of Andover, Secretary of Health and Human Services JudyAnn Bigby apologized for the delay in providing the information and offered a breakdown of spending on the Medicaid program, also called MassHealth.

Spending on 54,732 “immigrants who have not provided documentation” as to their Medicaid eligibility accounted for $93 million -— about half of which is supported by federal matching funds — 1 percent of the program’s overall budget in fiscal 2011.

“MassHealth complies with the federal law to cover emergency services for undocumented immigrants through the MassHealth Limited program,” Bigby wrote.

In addition, 94 percent of Medicaid spending, about $9 billion, went to 1,170,774 legal U.S. citizens, while 4 percent ($380 million) covered services for 69,301 “qualified immigrants” and 1 percent ($95 million) covered services for 33,215 legal immigrants who don’t yet meet the residency requirements to qualify for federal matching funds.

Administration officials emphasized that the spending on immigrants who failed to provide adequate documentation does not mean that they are all illegally residing in Massachusetts. In addition, those residents are only eligible for three programs:

— MassHealth Limited, which covers conditions that without treatment would result in “a) placing the individual’s health in serious jeopardy; b) serious impairment to bodily functions; or c) serious dysfunction of any bodily organ or part”;

— Children and teens without proper documentation are eligible for a “Children’s Medical Security Program”;

— Low-income pregnant women would be eligible for a “Healthy Start” program that provides “prenatal and postpartum care”

Lyons said in a phone interview that the information he received was a “step in the right direction.”

“I haven’t had a chance to fully analyze it and review it, which we intend to do,” he said. “Secretary Bigby did say in her letter that she would be willing to meet with us, and I expect to take her up on that.”

Lyons, a freshman, said his efforts were an information-gathering exercise ahead of the fiscal 2013 budget cycle.

“My whole focus is to gather information, you know, going into the next budget cycle … make sure that the available information, we understand where our tax dollars are going,” he said.

Lyons drew the administration’s attention earlier this month when he temporarily blocked a $169 million spending bill that also sent $350 million to the state rainy day fund. Patrick signed the bill last week but only after Democrats ripped Lyons for stalling the disbursement of $65 million in local aid to cities and towns that was effectuated by the enactment of the bill.

To block the bill, Lyons mounted a two-day stand in the House chamber, threatening to draw the House proceedings to a close if leaders tried to advance the budget bill. He was able to single-handedly hold up the bill because the House was meeting in “informal session,” when one member can block any legislation and roll call votes are prohibited.

Bigby’s letter to Lyons was dated Oct. 27, more than a month after Lyons submitted a request to her office, although Lyons contends he’s been making requests for data since the spring.