Expanding healthcare access to undocumented immigrants

Photo by Alex V. Hernandez | EXTRA

[dropcap]P[/dropcap]rovidence of God Catholic Church’s auditorium was standing room only on Monday. Over 500 residents, community and faith leaders as well as elected officials were gathered at the Pilsen church for the launch of the Healthy Illinois Campaign, a statewide campaign to secure healthcare coverage for Illinois’ immigrant community.

“The campaign’s whole purpose is to have everyone have access to health care,” said Carmen Velasquez. She’s an executive director with Alivio Medical Center and member of the campaign’s steering committee. “This is a social justice issue and we need to have everyone included for healthcare, including undocumented immigrants, but not only Latinos…everybody,” she said. “I’m 76 and I want healthcare for everyone before I die. I want immigration reform before I die.”

A few of the Healthy Illinois Campaign’s principles are that health care is a basic human right; that increased access to care, timely preventative services and better management of chronic illnesses promote improved health outcomes and reduce costs of late health interventions; and that less uninsured patients seen in hospitals and other medical providers will reduce uncompensated care costs and prevent health-related financial crises for individuals and families.

“I’m the grandson of a great Irish woman who came to this country without papers a little over a hundred years ago,” said Dr. Jay Shannon, CEO of the Cook County Health and Hospitals systems. “And for more than 150 years we’ve provided care to everyone who comes to us, regardless of immigration or employment status, regardless of their language…We’re not going to stray from that mission.”

Last year the county Cook County Health and Hospitals systems provided over $340 million in uncompensated care to patients who were admitted with no means to pay, said Dr. Shannon.

Roughly 511,000 undocumented immigrants live in the state of Illinois, mostly concentrated around the metro Chicago area, according a 2014 study by the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.

In Chicago, South Lawndale and Little Village are the community areas with the largest number of undocumented immigrants, about 20,000. However recent movements of immigrant communities have created large undocumented populations in Belmont Cragin, Gage Park, Albany Park, and Brighton Park that now outnumber the undocumented residents in the city’s Lower West Side and Pilsen communities.

The speakers on Monday also addressed the anti-immigrant rethoric from Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and Pope Francis urging the world’s wealthiest nation to welcome immigrants during his visit to the U.S. last week.

“We are called today as leaders to make sure that we fight what’s going on in this country, which is an anti-immigrant campaign,” said Raul Raymundo, CEO for The Resurrection Project. “We know that we are better off when immigrants are allowed to promote their talents for the betterment of our society and create more opportunities…if there was immigration reform they would pay $48 million in tax revenue over the next 10 years. Undocumented immigrants already pay $11 billion in local taxes each year. In Illinois that translates to $500 million.”

On Wednesday, Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL) introduced the Exchange Inclusion for a Healthy America Act of 2015 while speaking on the House floor.

The proposed legislation would subject everyone to the individual mandate to carry insurance and lifts restrictions in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) – also known as Obamacare – that require individuals to be “lawfully present” in order to buy into the health care insurance exchanges. This means those not covered by insurance through their employer, regardless of immigration status, would be required to purchase health insurance through the exchanges provided they establish state residency and file taxes, according to Gutiérrez’s office. Undocumented immigrants would also have access to subsidies and make them subject to the individual mandate that requires individuals to have health insurance or pay a tax penalty.

“The goal is to make integration and inclusion real for millions of families that are locked out under current law,” the Congressman said in his floor speech. “As it stands right now, undocumented immigrants are not subject to the individual mandate and cannot buy into health insurance exchanges even if they use their own money.”

Undocumented immigrants, including those with DACA/DAPA/Deferred Action, would be able to qualify for the program as long as they can provide proof of residency and tax-filings. If the bill gets passed, undocumented immigrants would be able to sign up for the ACA during the next open enrollment period for 2016. However to do so the bill would have to survive the GOP controlled Senate.

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