By Maegan Ortiz
A recently introduced congressional bill expanding legal immigrant access to health insurance is a good idea for the health of the entire country.
The Health Equity and Access under the Law (HEAL) for Immigrant Women & Families Act (HR 4240) was introduced last Thursday by New Mexico Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham.
It removes existing barriers that prevent legal immigrants from accessing Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and the Affordable Care Act.
The HEAL bill also allows undocumented young people, who were granted temporary legal status through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and DREAMers, access to the Affordable Care Act.
The bill allows them to buy coverage on the health exchanges, access to subsidies to make insurance affordable and to enroll in Medicaid or CHIP if they are eligible based on their income.
Currently those with DACA cannot legally buy private coverage on health insurance exchanges with or without federal subsidies.
Legal immigrants pay taxes to help fund federally funded healthcare programs that seek to help the most needy.
Since 1996, many legal immigrants have been barred from accessing these programs thanks to a five-year bar.
According to the National Council of La Raza, nearly 24 percent of legal immigrants are uninsured.
Being uninsured means more than having to pay more from already stretched thin budgets.
Not having insurance sometimes means not going to the doctor at all.
A five-year bar could mean a treatable illness could become untreatable due to lack of care.
Removing barrier access also makes good sense for the national economy.
Emergency services, which are often used as primary care by the uninsured, cost taxpayers more money.
By giving legal immigrants access to insurance, individuals will receive preventive care through a primary care physician.
Many immigrants will not have to wait for their health situation to become dire by receiving preventative care instead of emergency care.
For example, regular pap smears can catch cervical cancer in women and allow for more successful treatment.
According to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, only 61 percent of immigrant women received a pap smear in the previous three years, compared to 83 percent of women born in the United States.
The same study showed that deaths due to cervical cancer in immigrant women rose compared to those born in the U.S.
Access to regular health care for immigrants can mean the difference between life and death.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, about eight percent of babies born in the United States have undocumented parents.
Healthy babies become healthy children that grow up to be healthy adults.
“Immigrant women and families work hard, pay their taxes and contribute to our communities, society and economy. They shouldn’t be barred from accessing the health care they help pay for,” Grisham said.
Nearly 200 national, state, and local organizations and associations have signed a letter in support of the legislation.