Health care access for undocumented immigrants in the U.S. remains one of the biggest obstacles they face due to lack of private insurance, leaving them at risk for unmet medical needs and poor health outcomes.
Many states are taking steps to provide healthcare coverage to immigrants regardless of immigration status. Some offer subsidized Medicaid programs and emergency care through state-only funds.
Public Health Insurance
Undocumented immigrants, like all Americans, have access to public health insurance programs at the federal, state and local levels. These initiatives are created with the purpose of aiding those with healthcare needs.
However, despite these programs being available, many undocumented immigrants lack access and coverage due to factors like low incomes, limited employment opportunities, immigrant eligibility restrictions and enrollment barriers.
Some states have passed laws to make it simpler for undocumented immigrants to purchase private health insurance plans on the individual market. Some even expanded Medicaid coverage to certain low-income noncitizens and children.
New York has long offered free or very low-cost health coverage through its Essential Plan program to adults with low income who don’t qualify for Medicaid. Unfortunately, undocumented immigrants are excluded from this expansion and often go years without seeking medical help out of fear that a deportation order will follow them. According to experts across all political parties, including Dems and Republicans alike, adding coverage for undocumented immigrants could save the state hundreds of millions in emergency costs each year.
Health care is an integral part of living a healthy life, yet it can be challenging for some to access. Immigrants in particular often face difficulties navigating the healthcare system and often feel that their immigration status stands as an impediment to receiving necessary treatments.
Lawfully present immigrants can access the ACA Marketplaces to purchase private insurance and may qualify for tax credits to cover premiums and cost sharing that vary based on income. They also have access to Medicaid, CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program), and state-funded programs if their income falls below that threshold.
In addition to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), federal government-run Medicare is available for people aged 65 or older who have been lawfully present in America for five years or longer. Under ACA regulations, enrollees on Medicare in the individual market pay premiums equal to three times what younger individuals pay – effectively preventing unaffordable premiums from entering this market.
Undocumented immigrants often lack access to health coverage. Fortunately, the Affordable Care Act has provided some relief in this regard; now more than ever before, undocumented individuals can afford affordable health coverage.
Immigrants have several options for accessing private health insurance, such as employer-sponsored plans. These tend to be cost-effective and cover most medical expenses.
However, these products may not be accessible to everyone and tend to be more expensive than other insurance products.
Furthermore, some immigrants experience complications with immigration paperwork that can lead to the termination of their health insurance coverage.
State-run health insurance programs such as Medi-Cal in California provide coverage to undocumented immigrants who are lawfully resident and meet certain eligibility requirements. This program, known as Medi-Cal in the Golden State, covers low-income adults until they turn 26 years old.
Purchasing Unsubsidized Private Health Insurance
Undocumented immigrants who cannot afford government-sponsored health plans may look into purchasing unsubsidized private health insurance. Unfortunately, these plans may not cover all essential benefits or have deductibles and gaps in coverage.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) established an Essential Benefits package that all plans in the exchanges or offered outside of them must provide at a minimum. If you qualify for subsidies, then buying an ACA-compliant plan becomes much more accessible.
States also have the option to create a Basic Health Program that offers “look-alike” Medicaid coverage to low-income adults and lawfully present immigrants who are ineligible for Medicaid. These programs could offer much cheaper premiums and out-of-pocket costs than plans in the exchange.
Acquiring health insurance is an essential step towards attaining and maintaining good health. Whether you receive coverage through your employer or purchase it yourself, it’s essential that you receive all of the necessary care.