Reform may increase coverage rates for immigrants

The Affordable Care Act may increase health insurance coverage rates for up to 6 million immigrants and help close the coverage gap between them and native-born adults, according to a George Washington University study.  

Last year, almost three times as many noncitizen immigrants were uninsured compared to native-born adults, the study noted.   

Lawfully-present immigrants--including those with green cards or work and student visas--can buy plans through state exchanges. Immigrants working in small businesses may also qualify for coverage if their employers use the marketplaces to buy employee health plans. With ACA Medicaid expansion in some states, more legal immigrants will qualify for government insurance. Immigrants may also be eligible for state-administered Basic Health Programs.

Like the native-born, the ACA requires immigrant citizens to have insurance or incur a tax penalty. "This new obligation should further increase legal immigrants' take-up of insurance," the study noted. And 33 percent of Latinos surveyed by a Spanish-language broadcaster said they're likely to enroll in an ACA-related insurance product.

Historically, cultural and language barriers have hampered immigrants' ability to obtain coverage. "For the ACA to successfully boost coverage among this population, immigrants need to be aware of the new marketplaces and Medicaid benefits and understand how to enroll," the study said.

While efforts continue to educate immigrants about new coverage options, many hurdles remain: Some advocacy organizations lack resources to do appropriate outreach, and navigator laws in some states may undermine enrollment.

But the biggest obstacle may be immigrants' reluctance to seek coverage due to fears that application information will be used against them and lead to deportation, according to the Associated Press.

"There is a lot of fear, particularly if the noncitizen is applying for a citizen child," Cheryl O'Donnell, state director of Enroll America in Arizona, told AP; but there's also growing evidence that mixed-status families could be overcoming their hesitancy, the article noted.

To learn more:
- read the study abstract
- here's the AP article