While the program drew little attention when Romney signed the healthcare law, it could prove a foil to his attacks on GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry, the Texas governor who supports providing educational assistance for children of undocumented immigrants, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The Massachusetts healthcare law then-Gov. Romney signed in 2006 includes the Health Safety Net program, which allows undocumented immigrants to get needed medical care along with others who aren't insured. Romney already has been attacked for the state healthcare program that opponents say was the model for healthcare reform signed into law by President Obama.
Under the Health Safety Net, uninsured, poor immigrants -- regardless of their immigration status -- can go to a health clinic or hospital in Massachusetts and get publicly subsidized care at virtually no cost to them.
The Romney campaign referred the Times' inquiries to Tim Murphy, who was Romney's state health and human services secretary. Murphy said Romney didn't intend for the Health Safety Net program to serve undocumented immigrants.
"Our view when we signed the law was that all benefits would be for people in the commonwealth who were here legally," Murphy said, adding that regulations implementing the program were written after Romney left office in 2007.
But Massachusetts officials involved in devising the law said there was an understanding when Romney signed it that some people who would benefit would be undocumented, the Times said. While the healthcare law bars undocumented immigrants from getting certain health benefits, it does not prohibit them from getting 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," said John McDonough, a former consumer advocate who worked on the healthcare effort in Massachusetts.