Prioritizing Access to Health Care for American Immigrants and Families
The United States is continually seeing an increase in the number of foreign immigrants, most of whom enter the country with family members. However, there has been a disparity in immigrants’ access to health care when placed side by side with US citizens.
“Access to health services can dramatically improve the quality of life for immigrants,” says immigration attorney Zaira Solano of Solano Law Firm, LLC. Affordable health services are not available to most immigrants in the states. Children of immigrants also did not fare any better in accessing health care as there was a disparity in access to health care between them and children of citizens.
Access to Health Care by American Immigrants
Data collected from the US Census showed a significant disparity in health insurance between native-born citizens and immigrants. According to the data, non-citizen immigrants are three times less likely to have health insurance than citizens.
Additionally, the gap in the number of immigrants with health insurance is also apparent between recent immigrants and those who emigrated years ago. This disparity may be because over time immigrants find better, better-paying jobs and are able to afford health insurance.
Access of immigrants to private health insurance
Employee-sponsored health insurance makes up a large percentage of health insurance policies in the United States. However, a limited number of immigrants have access to this employer-sponsored health insurance, making them less insured. From census data, it becomes clear that many immigrant workers are less likely to get jobs that would provide them with health insurance.
The health insurance gap is widening even among non-Hispanic and Latino immigrants. Research has shown that 87% of non-Hispanic workers are offered employment-based health insurance. This number is relatively high compared to the 50% recorded for Latino immigrants.
Many immigrants accept jobs that do not offer employer-sponsored health insurance, including working in restaurants and construction sites. On the other hand, employers may not provide the same health insurance packages to citizens and immigrants.
Access of immigrants to public health insurance
Research shows that many immigrants cannot access public health insurance coverage, including Medicare and Medicaid. A large percentage of low-income American groups are immigrants, and Medicaid covers health insurance for many low-income earners in the United States.
However, according to the National Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), many immigrants are not eligible for Medicaid. The Welfare Reform Act enacted in 1996 placed restrictions on lawful permanent residents. This restriction prohibited lawful permanent residents coming after the law was enacted from accessing SCHIP or Medicaid coverage within the first five years of their stay.
Similar restrictions were also imposed on immigrants, making it impossible to get food stamps as well as Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Additionally, unauthorized immigrants or temporary visa holders are not eligible for Medicaid coverage, except for emergency services coverage. However, older immigrants still have access to Medicare because they are not required to accumulate hours of work that would qualify them for Social Security.
There is a health coverage gap between immigrants and citizens, even among the child population. This gap continued to widen from 1996, as children of immigrants became uninsured. According to Dr. Diana Montoya Williams of Pennsylvania Children’s Hospital, steps must be taken to ensure that all children are insured, whether they are immigrants or not.
Immigrant Health Care Barriers
Lack of health insurance for most immigrants has a ripple effect even on the U.S. economy According to an estimate by the Institute of Medicine, the U.S. loses $130 billion and $65 billion a year due to medical impairment on all uninsured. Immigrants often rely on safety net hospitals run by counties, states and charities to access free or less expensive health services.
There are specific factors that act as a barrier, preventing immigrants to the United States from accessing quality health care. These barriers include:
- Policies such as social law reform that limit health care eligibility and where access is granted limit the type of health care that immigrants can claim
- Undue discrimination within the health care system
- Fear of deportation and loss of capital necessary for undocumented migrants to obtain such services
- Registration system and paperwork that discourages many immigrants from enrolling in health insurance plans
Access to health care is a necessity for everyone, regardless of their status. The United States has made considerable progress in ensuring immigrants’ access to health services, as evidenced by the steady decline in the number of uninsured people. However, specific policies and efforts need to be put in place to ensure that the gap between insured citizens and immigrants continues to narrow, leading to improved quality of life.