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Obamacare FAQs for Immigrants

Affordable Care Act Answers for Non-Citizens About Health Insurance

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Felue Chang who is newly insured under an insurance plan through the Affordable Care Act receives a checkup from Dr. Peria Del Pino-White
Joe Raedle/Getty Images News/Getty Images

What does the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, mean for legal immigrants living in the United States?

There are roughly 10 million immigrants who are here legally with green cards or visas, and the new law will require many of them to have health care insurance.

Legal permanent residents, the green card-holders, who don't have health coverage provided by their employers will be expected to buy insurance through one of the state-based exchanges that open Oct. 1.

What about unauthorized immigrants who are in the country illegally?

Recent estimates put the number of unauthorized immigrants at about 11.3 million. They are not eligible to participate in the government's health-care program. They cannot receive Medicaid or purchase insurance with federal subsidies on the state-based exchanges. Unauthorized immigrants are excluded.

The language in the law specifically prohibits them from participating: "Access limited to lawful residents. If an individual is not, or is not reasonably expected to be for the entire period for which enrollment is sought, a citizen or national of the United States or an alien lawfully present in the United States, the individual shall not be treated as a qualified individual and may not be covered under a qualified health plan in the individual market that is offered through an Exchange."

Where can I find information about the Affordable Health Care Act?

The best way is to visit the government's website https://www.healthcare.gov/. Or, call 1-800-318-2596. Small business owners can call 1-800-706-7893. A Spanish language site was scheduled to come online Oct. 1 but has been delayed.

Can legal immigrants qualify for Medicaid or receive government subsidies to purchase health insurance on the state-based exchanges?

Yes. The Affordable Care Act allows many classes of legal immigrants to participate in the system.

What groups of immigrants are eligible to take advantage of the new law?

The government has an eligible immigration status list posted on its website. Here is a partial list of the immigrant groups that are eligible: Lawful permanent residents (LPR/green card holders), asylees, refugees, Cuban/Haitian entrants, parolees to the U.S., Temporary Protected Status (TPS), Lawful Temporary residents and others. Many applicants for the above designations are also eligible.

Are there penalties for eligible legal immigrants who don't participate in the new system and remain uninsured?

Yes, legal immigrants who refuse to get health insurance are subject to fines from the Internal Revenue Service.

Will unauthorized immigrants still be able to find health care?

Yes, federal law currently requires hospitals to provide emergency room care to everyone, regardless of the ability to pay or immigration status. Obamacare does not change that. But the care is limited, costly and often too late to prevent minor health problems from becoming major ones.

Are Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) immigrants eligible to apply for the health care program?

No, DACA immigrants are not eligible. Those immigrants waiting for passage of the DREAM Act will have to wait for health care, too.

Is there a five-year residency requirement for immigrants to obtain Medicaid?

Most immigrants who have low incomes and are eligible for the Medicaid provision must have lived in the country for five years to apply. Immigrants who have refugee status can qualify for Medicaid without the five-year waiting period. Obamacare expands Medicaid eligibility in all states to people earning up to 138% of the federal poverty level, about $15,800 for an individual and $33,000 for a family of four. Roughly 57% of uninsured non-citizens meet that income requirement.

Are there penalties for legal immigrants who do not participate in the new system and have no health insurance?

Yes, those who decide to remain uninsured are subject to fines from the Internal Revenue Service.

Will unauthorized immigrants still be able to get health care?

Yes, federal law requires that hospitals provide emergency room care to everyone, regardless of the ability to pay or immigration status. But the care is limited, costly and often too late to prevent minor health issues from becoming major problems. It is the least efficient way to deliver health care services. Many charitable organizations also intend to continue providing services to unauthorized immigrants.

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