Movement on Health Coverage for Immigrants

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Guest blog by Max Hadler, Health Advocacy Specialist at The New York Immigration Coalition

Despite the major health care coverage gains achieved under the Affordable Care Act, more than 450,000 New Yorkers remain uninsured because their immigration status makes them ineligible for affordable coverage. As a result of the continued failure to approve federal immigration reform or lift health coverage restrictions on many groups of immigrants, it continues to fall to state and local governments to pick up the slack. Health Care For All New York has responded to the dire lack of coverage options for immigrants by launching the Coverage 4 All campaign under the leadership of two of the coalition’s member organizations, Make the Road New York and the New York Immigration Coalition.

The campaign’s mission is to obtain affordable coverage options for all New Yorkers, regardless of immigration status. A shorter-term goal is to expand coverage to a smaller group of immigrants who are “permanently residing under color of law” (PRUCOL). These are people whose presence in the U.S. is known and may be unauthorized, and who have received confirmation from the federal government that it has no intention of deporting them. In New York, immigrants who are PRUCOL are eligible for state-funded Medicaid when they meet the income requirements (less than $16,242 annual income for a single person). However, the same people are not currently eligible for the Essential Plan, New York’s low-cost, comprehensive coverage program for low-income residents whose incomes are too high for Medicaid (up to $23,540 annually for a single person). This restriction runs counter to New York’s history of providing coverage to many immigrants who are excluded from federally-funded programs.

Most immigrants who are PRUCOL are young adults who grew up in the U.S. and have Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) as a result of President Obama’s 2012 executive order providing them two-year work authorizations and a reprieve from deportation. These young people are encouraged to work as a result of their DACA status but are then faced with a dearth of affordable coverage options when their incomes increase beyond the Medicaid threshold because they are ineligible for the Essential Plan and prohibited from accessing tax credits through the New York State of Health insurance marketplace.

To begin to remedy these coverage gaps, the New York State Assembly is working to expand Essential Plan eligibility to include immigrants who are PRUCOL. The Assembly included $10.3 million in its 2016-17 budget to provide this coverage, but the funding was ultimately cut in budget negotiations. Assemblymembers Richard Gottfried and Marcos Crespo have since introduced legislation that would expand Essential Plan eligibility to include immigrants who are PRUCOL. Bill A10054 was successfully voted out of the Assembly Health Committee on May 17 and is now awaiting a vote by the Ways and Means Committee. HCFANY has submitted a memorandum of support for the bill. Others are encouraged to submit their own memorandums and to borrow language from the HCFANY memo as needed. Please contact me at the New York Immigration Coalition if interested in registering your support (mhadler@nyic.org).

@mx_214The ACA has helped New York close the coverage gap by enrolling over 2.7 million New Yorkers into coverage. But some New Yorkers remain ineligible for these new options for affordable coverage because of immigration status limitations on affordability programs.

The Community Service Society, a HCFANY Steering Committee member, released a new report today that offers an in-depth analysis of costs, eligibility and coverage options related to providing affordable and high-quality health insurance to nearly a half million unauthorized immigrants living in New York who are uninsurable due to their immigration status.

The paper, “How New York Can Provide Health Coverage to its Uninsured Immigrant Residents,” describes three coverage options that would improve health coverage for a vulnerable segment of the state’s population while also closing the coverage gap left by the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Despite the state’s expansive public insurance programs, there are as many as 457,000 unauthorized immigrants ineligible for coverage. Uninsured people are more likely to get sick and even die younger, and the cost of care can mean financial ruin for uninsured families. Treating uninsured patients also strains the budgets of community health care providers that treat them.

The policy paper investigates three coverage options that would extend health insurance to between 90,100 and 241,600 immigrants New Yorkers who are ineligible for Medicaid and Marketplace coverage due to their immigration status. Funding even the most ambitious of these proposals would result in a less than one percent increase in the state’s health budget of roughly $65 billion.

The report also points out a more modest policy fix that New York could enact this year, while the State considers the more comprehensive options outlined in the report. This option, the Essential Plan “Clean Up,” would extend Essential Plan coverage to about 5,500 lawful immigrants in New York with immigration statuses that would make them eligible for Medicaid in New York, but not for the federally-funded Essential Plan. These New Yorkers include young adults who qualify for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status, also known as the Dreamers.

 

Pride table

High rates of un-insurance among lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people have finally started to drop because of the affordable, nondiscriminatory health coverage options made possible by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The LGBT uninsured rate fell from 24.2 percent to under 18 percent in the first year of operation of ACA health marketplaces, according to national Gallup surveys. But that was still significantly higher than the 13.2 percent un-insurance rate for the U.S. population as a whole.

That’s why Health Care for All New York is reaching out to uninsured LGBT New Yorkers as they participate in Pride celebrations in June and July. Raising Women’s Voices-NY, a HCFANY Steering Committee member, will be at every Pride Month celebration in the New York City area, handing out LGBT-specific information, and collecting contact information for uninsured people and connecting them to navigators who specialize in working with LGBT consumers for enrollment assistance.

Big selling points this year are the recent New York State policy announcements requiring health insurers to cover all medically-necessary transgender care. HCFANY’s LGBT Task Force is delighted to see that the New York Department of Financial Services responded to our concerns by issuing a guidance letter covering private health plans. HCFANY is also educating LGBT New Yorkers about the March 2015 partial lifting of transgender exclusions in state Medicaid coverage.

We’re letting LGBT New Yorkers know that if they are getting married, having a baby or experiencing one of a list of “qualifying life events,” they are eligible for a special enrollment period to apply for coverage through the NY State of Health marketplace. Low-income LGBT people can apply for Medicaid or Children’s Health Insurance Program coverage for themselves and their families year-round. The third open enrollment period for ACA health coverage starts on November 15.Pride outreach

RWV-NY Community Organizer Liza Lederer and summer intern Christianna Silva were at the Brooklyn Pride festivities on June 13, handing out materials and talking with uninsured LGBT people about how to get covered. More than 10,000 people attended Brooklyn Pride, which occupied six blocks in Park Slope Community. Many of the vendors at the festival were self-employed people interested in getting health insurance for the first time, reported Lederer. The following day, June 14, RWV-NY participated in Rockland Pride, which was held in the village of Nyack, and was attended by more than 2,000 people from the Rockland LGBT community.

 

Coming up on Saturday, June 27, will be Harlem Pride, where RWV-NY staff will do outreach to uninsured LGBT people in the neighborhood. Then, on Sunday, June 28, is the big Pride Festival in Manhattan, which draws more than 200,000 people from around the country. RWV-NY staff and volunteers will be leafleting and collecting names of uninsured people along the parade route and in the exhibit and vendor area that stretches over five blocks in the West Village. Pride activities in the New York City area will conclude on July 17, when RWV-NY will have a table at Bronx Pride, which will be held from noon to 8 p.m. in Crotona Park.

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Guest post: Lois Uttley, Director, Raising Women’s Voices – NY

All this week, HCFANY’s LGBT Task Force has been sponsoring events to reach uninsured LGBT New Yorkers with information about how to get enrolled in an affordable health insurance plan before the Feb. 15 deadline of open enrollment through the NY State of Health Marketplace.

An event on Tuesday in Jackson Heights, Queens, highlighted the fact that this is also national Latino outreach and enrollment week, and underscored the particular challenges facing LGBT New Yorkers who are also immigrants. The event was held at Voces Latinas, a NYS-certified Navigator agency that partners with the LGBT Community Center to serve the many Spanish-speaking LGBT people who live in Queens.

“Within New York City, LGBT individuals are disproportionately uninsured. These numbers increase when we factor immigration status and language barriers,” explained Nathaly Rubio-Torio, Executive Director of Voces Latinas. “Our navigators are bilingual, bicultural and fully culturally competent.”

Rubio-Torio (at left in photo) was joined at the event by (left to right in photo) NYC Council Member Danny Dromm, who represents Jackson Heights and is a member of the Council’s LGBT Caucus; Luis Scaccabarrozzi, Director of Health Policy and Advocacy for the Latino Commission on AIDS; Alexander Cortes, an enrollment specialist with Voces Latinas; and Lois Uttley, Co-Chair of HCFANY’s LGBT Task Force (not pictured).

Another of the organizations participating in this week’s events also has a special mission of serving LGBT immigrants. Make the Road NY is sponsoring an LGBT information and enrollment event this Friday night, January 16, from 6 to 8 p.m. at its 301 Grove St. Brooklyn office.