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State Bill Would Provide Low-Income Immigrants Health Coverage - Arcelia Martin

KAREN MANIRAHO, HOST: Immigrant New Yorkers are at higher risk of contracting COVID. Many have had to work in person throughout the pandemic. But 400,000 don’t qualify for any federal or state-funded health care.

CAT SMITH, HOST: A new bill, currently in the senate's health committee, would change that. It would temporarily give some immigrants access to health coverage. Arcelia Martin has the story.

ARCELIA MARTIN, BYLINE: Immigrants make up one third of the state's essential workers, but many don't qualify for health care because of their status or income. The long game for advocates is to get medical coverage for all immigrants. But in the meantime, they're narrowing their scope. Providing coverage for about 5,000 of them who are low income.

ARLINE CRUZ: Do you have a roof over your head? Do you have food to eat? The last thing that you really should be worrying about is about access to health care during a pandemic.

MARTIN: That's Arline Cruz. She's with Make the Road New York, an immigrant advocacy group. They're co-leading the campaign. She says there are some programs offering temporary coverage for a select few groups of immigrants. Minors under 19, people who are pregnant, DACA recipients. But the coverage is easy to lose. You can age out or earn more than low income applicants are allowed to. It can make staying covered tough.

And while regardless of your immigration status, there are public hospitals and clinics you can go to.

CRUZ: However, it's not the same thing as having access to health insurance, where you can choose your doctor, where you will experience a smaller waiting period to actually see your doctor or access specialists.

MARTIN: And Cruz says with temporary insurance, people would have coverage for medication, which isn't always available through public health systems. That's why she said she supports the new bill. It would cover New Yorkers who meet three criteria. First, their household incomes are two hundred percent below the federal poverty line. Second, they've had a confirmed or suspected case of covid-19. And lastly, they're excluded from other insurance because of their immigration status.

Amanda Luggs is with the African Services Committee, a nonprofit advocating for African immigrants. She also wants the bill to pass, but she worries there's a misconception as to who foots the bill.

LUGGS: And just to underscore it, it wasn't or never has been to give free health care. What it is, is the opportunity to buy the insurance coverage that you need.

MARTIN: That means immigrants would pay for the coverage themselves. And two months after the pandemic ends, so would their temporary insurance. The legislation was sponsored only by Democrats. In order to move the ball forward, it needs to pass through the health committee, 10 out of 15 members are Democrats. No itinerary has been set yet for the next committee meeting.

Arcelia Martin, Columbia Radio News.


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