NEW YORK – Two years after the opening of the Health Exchange, more than 90 percent of New Yorkers have health insurance – but the state’s immigrant population is lagging far behind.
Statewide, 17 percent of Latinos still are uninsured, and in Suffolk County, 44 percent of all uninsured individuals are immigrants. One issue has been application materials that primarily are in English.
Andrew Leonard, senior policy associate for the Children’s Defense Fund, said another issue is cost.
“For those who either don’t qualify for Medicaid because of their immigration status or have earned too much to qualify for Medicaid,” he said, “some of the premiums in the private health plans may have been unaffordable.”
Last year, online applications were made available in Spanish, and Leonard said the introduction this year of new, low-cost insurance called the Essential Plan should help close the gap.
The children of immigrants also are disproportionately uninsured. All children in the state under age 19, regardless of immigration status, are eligible for free or subsidized health care under the Child Health Plus program. Leonard said making insurance accessible to parents makes a difference for kids, too.
“Our end goal is to make sure that all children and all families are healthy,” he said. “So, we want to make sure that that insurance coverage really leads to care, and we know that that’s better achieved when parents are also insured.”
Some immigrants may fear that enrolling in health insurance through the state could put them at risk.
Leonard said the state’s insurance Marketplace doesn’t report that information, but some people may need more assurance.
“One of the really important tools in addressing that is the navigator program that the state runs through community-based organizations that are able to communicate that in a more trusted way than maybe a notice from the state could,” he said.
According to advocates for the uninsured, reaching out to immigrant communities in their own language and with cultural sensitivity can help eliminate the health insurance gap statewide.
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