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What health reform means for the people of Illinois

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Monday, October 21, 2013

How the Affordable Care Act Helps Immigrants

There are at least 40 million immigrants in the United States, accounting for about 13% of our country’s total population. The Affordable Care Act (ACA, also known as ObamaCare) helps immigrants by providing new and strengthening current health insurance coverage opportunities. Below are six important points about the ACA that all immigrants need to understand.

Lawfully present immigrants are eligible to purchase private health insurance plans in the health insurance marketplaces. Every state has made available to its residents access to a state or federal online marketplace where applicants will be provided a range of affordable private qualified health plans for them to enroll in. Essential health benefits, pre-existing conditions, and preventive care will all be covered under these qualified health plans. Open enrollment in these plans is from October 1, 2013, until March 31, 2014. Applicants must have enrolled in and purchased coverage by December 15, 2013, for coverage to start on its earliest date: January 1, 2014.

Lawfully present immigrants may qualify for federal financial help to lower the cost of their monthly premiums and cost-sharing (e.g., co-payments, deductible, co-insurance) to help them afford a private insurance plan through the Marketplaces. Lawfully present immigrants with household income between 100% and 400% of the federal poverty level (FPL) ($45,960 for an individual or $94,200 for a family of four) are eligible for premium tax credits and between 100% and 250% of the FPL ($28,725 for an individual and $58,875 for a family of four) are eligible for the cost-sharing reduction subsidies. The tax credit alone is estimated to provide $2,700 per family that purchases coverage on the Marketplace, reducing premium cost by an average of 32%. To qualify for this federal financial help, applicants cannot be offered affordable health insurance through their job or be eligible for Medicaid.

Most lawfully present immigrants who meet Medicaid program requirements, such as income and state residency, can enroll in Medicaid after they have been in the United States for 5 years or more. Some groups of lawfully present immigrants do not have to wait five years before they may enroll in Medicaid, including refugees, asylees, and pregnant women and children in some states. Immigrants will benefit greatly in states that choose to add the ACA’S new Medicaid eligibility category, which will expand that program to all adults under age 65 with household income of less than 138% of the FPL (about $15,800 for an individual and $32,500 for a family of four). In fact,more than half (52%) of uninsured Hispanics with incomes below this limit reside in states adding the new Medicaid eligibility category. Use of Medicaid does not affect one’s immigration status (public charge decision) unless the Medicaid use is for long-term care such as nursing home care.

Lawfully present immigrants with household incomes of less than 100% of the federal poverty level are also eligible for the private Marketplace coverage and can get help paying premiums and cost sharing if they are ineligible for Medicaid (either because they are not LPRs or because they are LPRs with less than five years of residency).

Undocumented immigrants may not buy health insurance through the Marketplaces, even at full cost. However, until this is remedied, undocumented immigrants need to know that
community health centers, strengthened by ACA funding, will still accept patients regardless of immigration status, emergency rooms will continue to treat undocumented immigrants for free or at very low cost, many hospitals have charity care obligations that essentially provide free care to low-income patients, regardless of immigration status, undocumented immigrants may purchase health coverage through an employer or a spouse’s employer, undocumented immigrants may purchase private health insurance off of the Marketplace, and some state-funded Medicaid programs are open to them regardless of immigration status.

Undocumented immigrants also need to understand that, if they have family members who are U.S. citizens or lawfully present, these family members are required to have health insurance under the law starting in 2014, or face a penalty at tax time, unless they qualify for some exemption. This means that undocumented parents who have lawfully present or U.S. citizen children must ensure that their children have health insurance (through a child-only private Marketplace plan or through Medicaid, for instance). It’s important to remember that only those individuals in a family who are applying for health insurance are required to provide citizenship and immigration status. So undocumented parents applying through the Marketplace for private or Medicaid coverage for their eligible family members will not be asked for a Social Security Number for themselves (only for the applicants).

There is no charge to individuals who receive in-person help in enrolling in Medicaid or Marketplace coverage. The ACA provides federal funding to train and certify in-person consumer assisters to walk individuals through all of their health insurance coverage options. You can find an in-person assister by going to your Marketplace’s website. These assisters cannot and will not charge individuals for this enrollment assistance, including answering questions post-enrollment. Lastly, enrollment information is not shared with immigration agencies for the purpose of enforcement.

Andrea Kovach
Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law

(Reblog from the Shriver Brief)


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