CIANA Explains: What Options Do Immigrants Have for Healthcare in NYC?


Doctor takes patient's pulse.

As part of a multi-week series, CIANA’s legal and outreach team will discuss all you need to know about topics affecting immigrants and what you can do to help. Read the previous post in the series about the US 2020 Census here.

Astoria, NY- The recent debate about the Trump administration’s proposed “public charge” rule change that we covered a few weeks ago in the first installment of CIANA Explains has led many to argue that the proposed rule would deter many low-income immigrants, with or without legal status, from accessing healthcare due to fears of deportation. Given the increasing hostility of the current political climate, many immigrants and their families have already been discouraged from accessing public health insurance coverage, even if they are eligible. Additionally, with about 40% of New York City’s population made up of immigrants, including about 1.2 million unauthorized immigrants, it is crucial for us to protect and promote their well-being.

But obstacles to health care access are nothing new. Even before the the public charge proposal in October, many low-income, non-citizen immigrants and their families lacked access to adequate medical care. Low-income immigrants face more barriers to healthcare access than low-income native-born citizens, due to language barriers, unfamiliarity with the US healthcare system, and lack of time and monetary resources to try and find coverage.

Obstacles to Healthcare Access

One of the most notable obstacles to healthcare access is citizenship status, which impacts an unauthorized immigrant’s ability to secure healthcare coverage. According to a 2015 report by the NYC Mayor’s Task Force on Immigrant Health Care Access, nearly 64% of unauthorized immigrants or a total of 345,000 people in New York City are uninsured, compared to only 35% of authorized non-citizens. This is more than six times than the number of uninsured NYC residents who are authorized non-citizens or citizens. In part, restrictions on Medicaid are to blame since that insurance is only offered to low-income people with legal status. Although the majority of unauthorized immigrants are low-income, they can only receive Medicaid coverage in the case of medical emergencies. Unfortunately, on most occasions they are left without any coverage at all.