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 (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Here’s the quick summary of how we did:
Comprehensive coverage for immigrants
HCFANY Recommendation: Provide $10.3 million in State funding to offer Essential Plan (EP) to legal immigrants who are barred from federally-funded EP.
Full funding for Community Health Advocates (CHA)
HCFANY Recommendation: Provide $4 million in funding for CHA to help people with their insurance problems and access to health care problems, when they occur.
Result: The final budget included $3.25 million for CHA–$2.5 million from the Executive and $750,000 from the Assembly. Due to the intricacies of State contracting, this means that the CHA program faces an 18% cut from the past year.
Prior Approval of insurance plan rate increases
HCFANY Recommendation: Reject a Senate One House bill proposal to repeal the State’s right to review proposed insurance premium increases.
Health Guaranty Fund
HCFANY Recommendation: Support with modifications the Senate and Assembly stand-alone bill which sought to set up a Health Guaranty fund to reimburse providers in the wake of a health plan closing (e.g. Health Republic).
Result: The budget establishes a fund that will be financed through “settlement funds” to reimburse providers. The process for distributing the funds is unknown and it appears to include no public representation and/or public reporting on the distributions.
Medicaid beneficiary protections
HCFANY Recommendation: HCFANY opposed the following threats to Medicaid beneficiaries: elimination of spousal/parental refusal, reduction of resources that spouses of people in MLTC or nursing homes can keep, and the repeal of “prescriber prevails.”
Result: None of these proposals made the final budget. That means spousal/parental refusal remains intact, spouses of people in MLTC or nursing homes will not see a cut in the amount of resources they can keep, and “prescriber prevails” will continue to be available in Medicaid.
HCFANY leaders are heading to the State Capitol today to speak to legislative leaders about our 2016 Policy Agenda. Here are a few of HCFANY’s ideas for ways that New York can continue to build on our successes to increase access to affordable quality health care for all.
Comprehensive Coverage for All Immigrants: New York can offer Essential Plan (EP) coverage for the roughly 5,500 New Yorkers who are ineligible for federal EP funding because of their immigration status by allocating $10.3 million in state-only funding for next year. New York should also explore ways to cover all immigrants, including those who are undocumented.
Consumer Assistance: Community Health Advocates (CHA) helps New Yorkers understand, use and keep their insurance by providing a central, toll-free helpline and community and small business-serving agencies throughout the State. Last year, New York provided $3 million in funding for a 9-month period. This year, New York should provide $4 million to ensure a year-round CHA program.
Consumer Outreach: While New York has exceeded enrollment expectations, 8% of New Yorkers remain uninsured. New York should build on its success by providing $2 million in funding for outreach and education by community-based organizations (CBOs) and small business-serving groups to reach the remaining uninsured. You can read more about these ideas in HCFANY’s Legislative Agenda Policy Brief and HCFANY Health/Medicaid Testimony on the 2016-2017 NYS Executive Budget.
The 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.