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Working Around the Affordable Care Act to Help Undocumented Immigrants

Posted by Matthew Green | May 19, 2014 | 0 Comments

Saira Murillo thought she was excluded from participating in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) because she was an undocumented immigrant. However, she found a way to get coverage. Murillo is a DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipient and, because of this, she was able to sign up for health insurance in her state. In Murillo's case, she became aware of this option after a professor told her and other undocumented classmates about their eligibility in California.

DACA was implemented in 2012. The program permits some young, undocumented immigrants temporary work authorization for a two-year period. This means they are not in danger of being deported during those two years.

There are certain states that have come to the realization that, because they have a higher undocumented immigrant population, it is necessary for them to offer “preventative care regardless of legal status.” This includes states like California and New York. Those two states, along with Washington, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and D.C., “offer health insurance to low-income individuals granted deferred status.” So far, this seems to be a good compromise because states are not using federal funds for these programs.

At first, ACA allowed those who were DACA recipients to qualify for health insurance, but that policy changed about two months after the DACA program was announced. "Normally, someone with deferred action status would be considered lawfully present for all purposes on a federal level, which would mean that those DACA grantees would've been included in the ACA.”

Of course, there are always critics. Some say that this might increase undocumented immigration, and further crowd local hospitals. However, Alvaro Huerta, staff attorney with the National Immigration Law Center, disagrees. “It makes financial and practical sense to include DACA grantees in the ACA," Huerta said. "It would increase the pool that's eligible for exchanges by adding generally young, healthy immigrants, and that would decrease health insurance costs for all of us.

"If this policy is approved, there would be as many as 1.7 million immigrants eligible for DACA status that don't happen to live in California or New York. But, even in California, there are many immigrants who are unaware that they are eligible for the California Medicaid welfare program. According to a study conducted by the UC Berkeley Labor Center, there are approximately 125,000 immigrant youths in California with deferred action status who are eligible for the program.

Further, there are just about 1 million undocumented Californians who remain uninsured since the ACA has gone into effect this year. A UCLA study found that “71% of uninsured immigrant youth have an existing need to access a doctor or specialist about their own health; however, 53% stated that they haven't seen a doctor for more than a year.”

Although these uninsured individuals may rely on “home remedies” when they fall ill, there are obviously certain cases where that just won't be enough. There are certain things that every person living in the U.S. should have access to and one of those is health care.

What are your thoughts? Is this the best way to get more immigrants insured? Or, is there another option that might be better?

About the Author

Matthew Green

Managing Partner. Green | Evans-Schroeder (formerly Law Offices of Matthew H. Green) focuses on the aggressive defense of immigrants. A native of Arizona, Mr. Green understands the difficulties that immigrants and families of immigrants face when a loved one is charged with a crime. He knows how frightening it can be for some...


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