By Alice Dong
For Northwest Asian Weekly
Though we are on the brink of historic change regarding our nation’s haphazard health care system, it is stunning that even these sweeping reforms continue those policies that exclude legal immigrants.
With a few exceptions, legal immigrants must live in the United States for a minimum of five years before they are eligible for Medicaid, and in many states, the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Given that more than 60 percent of Asian Americans are foreign-born and more than 17 percent are uninsured, this provision hits our community particularly hard.
This waiting period prevents many low-income, legal immigrants from obtaining quality health care. Without access to affordable health services, many of those in our community, including children, put off receiving care until the problem is so severe that expensive emergency services are their only option. While emergency rooms cannot turn away uninsured or indigent patients, the cost of treating them is transferred to those with health insurance.
Most proposals would make health care subsidies available to legal immigrants – a bare-minimum, given that they pay taxes. However, allowing them access to Medicaid and CHIP, instead of placing them in the insurance exchanges under consideration, will likely prove to be more cost-effective.
Moreover, parents of children enrolled in CHIP pay less out-of-pocket than they likely would in private-run insurance plans. Meanwhile, Medicaid provides low-income children with services better suited to their needs. With many legislators worrying about health care reform’s price tag, removing the five-year bar could lower costs.
Health care reform promises great innovation, but keeping in place a policy that perpetuates a more expensive health care system will only stifle real reform. Lifting the five-year waiting period will make for a healthier America.
We must tell Congress how important this provision is. ♦
Alice Dong is the health law policy staff attorney with the Asian American Justice Center in Washington, D.C.