Immigration Status, Public Benefits & Access to Care

Medicaid generally limits eligibility (for immigrants) to qualified legal immigrants with refugee status, veterans, and people lawfully present in the US for 5 years or more. State Medicaid programs can elect to provide coverage to legally present immigrants before the 5-year waiting period ends (Arizona does not).

States get matching funds from CMS when they choose to provide Medicaid coverage to legally present immigrants who are children or pregnant before the end of the 5-year waiting period.  33 states have elected to cover lawfully residing immigrant children and 25 states cover legally present pregnant women (Arizona does not).

The Affordable Care Act made it possible for the legally present immigrants who are ineligible for Medicaid (due to being in the five-year waiting period) to qualify for commercial coverage and subsidies on the Federal health insurance marketplace.

Immigrants eligible for Medicaid or employer-sponsored insurance face several coverage and service barriers.  As I mentioned above, immigration officials consider the likelihood of individuals and families becoming a “public charge,” which can result in denied admission to the US or status as a lawful permanent resident. 

The criteria that will be considered beginning 10/15/19 will include whether applicants receive Medicaid (AHCCCS), the Medicare Part D Low Income Subsidy, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps), and Section 8 Housing program. The existing Rule only considered participation in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

Fear that using safety net services will mean that they’ll be considered a public charge contributes to some families of mixed immigration status avoiding use of services like TANF, Medicaid, SNAP etc.  Some eligible immigrants avoid services because they think family members will become involved in immigration enforcement actions.

Research findings by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that changes in healthcare use and decreased participation in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program because of this immigration policy.

Anyway, it’s a complicated system but I hope this makes it a little clearer.