Health Care Reform Would Make No Difference for Immigrants, Study Claims

Health care reform supporters in Minnesota - Photo: AFL-CIO/Flickr

Health care reform supporters in Minnesota. (Photo: AFL-CIO/Flickr)

President Obama’s health care overhaul is waiting to be revived in Congress, but whether it finally passes or is killed would not make much of a difference to immigrants, according to a new report by two progressive organizations in New York.

The study shows that immigrants both documented and undocumented would “continue to face major barriers to health coverage even if federal health care reform is enacted,” according to a press release from New Yorkers for Accessible Health Coverage (NYFAHC) and the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC).

Non-citizens already comprise 29 percent of those uninsured in New York, although they are only 12 percent of the state’s population, the study says.

The high rates of lack of insurance among immigrants are due to numerous factors, according to the report. Among them: immigrants work lower paying jobs at smaller workplaces that tend not to provide health coverage; the undocumented cannot join public health programs like Medicaid or Medicare, and lawful residents are barred from these for five years; and “legal immigrants fear that enrolling in public coverage will classify them as ‘public charges’ who may be denied permanent residence status.”

“The health reform bills currently being debated in Congress fail to address most of these barriers,” said Mark Scherzer, one of the study’s authors.

“Even more ominous,” he added, “some proposals, such as one to exclude undocumented immigrants from using their own money to purchase full-price coverage in health insurance exchanges, would make it even harder for immigrants to enroll in coverage.”

“Two million New Yorkers are noncitizens, and they lack health insurance to a much greater extent than citizens,” said co-author Jenny Rejeske. “The substantial majority of these noncitizens are here legally, and they pay the same taxes as citizens do. There is no justification for impeding their access to insurance and the care that they and their families need. It is time for policy makers to remove the barriers that prevent immigrants from getting the health care they need.”

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