Laboratories of Exclusion: Medicaid, Federalism & Immigrants

98 Pages Posted: 11 May 2020 Last revised: 23 Dec 2020

See all articles by Medha D. Makhlouf

Medha D. Makhlouf

Pennsylvania State University, Dickinson Law

Date Written: December 22, 2020


Medicaid’s cooperative federalism structure gives states significant discretion to include or exclude various categories of immigrants. This has created extreme geographic variability in immigrants’ access to health coverage. This Article describes federalism’s role in influencing state policies on noncitizen eligibility for Medicaid and its implications for national health policy. Although there are disagreements over the extent to which public funds should be used to subsidize noncitizen health coverage, this Article reveals that decentralized policymaking on noncitizen access to Medicaid has weakened national health policy by increasing wasteful spending and exacerbating inequities in access to healthcare. It has failed to incentivize the type of state policy experimentation and replication that justifies federalism arrangements in other contexts. Rather, federalism has (1) enabled states to enact exclusionary policies that are ineffective and inhumane and (2) created barriers for states to enact inclusionary policies that advance the normative goals of health policy. This Article concludes that noncitizen access to health coverage is best addressed through centralized policymaking.

This Article contributes to scholarly conversations about federalism and healthcare by providing a case study to test the efficacy of federalism arrangements in achieving equity for those who were left behind by health reform. More broadly, it adds to the federalism literature by synthesizing insights from three fields that rarely comment on one another: health law, immigration law, and federalism theory.

Keywords: Medicaid, immigrants, federalism, health insurance, equity

Suggested Citation

Makhlouf, Medha, Laboratories of Exclusion: Medicaid, Federalism & Immigrants (December 22, 2020). 95 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 1680 (2020), Available at SSRN:

Medha Makhlouf (Contact Author)

Pennsylvania State University, Dickinson Law ( email )

150 S College St
Carlisle, PA 17013
United States

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