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Aug 29, 2023 | April Xu and Rommel H. Ojeda

Free and Affordable Healthcare for Asylum Seekers and Undocumented Migrants

How can immigrants access healthcare in New York City? Here's everything you need to know.

Health insurance plays a crucial role in helping immigrants, including undocumented immigrants, access healthcare in New York City, as it helps cover the costs for preventive care, prescriptions, doctor’s visits and other medical services. 

Documented spoke with health specialists to inquire about the health insurances available to immigrants in NYC. Here is what you need to know. 

In summary

  • Migrants can apply for health insurance if they have filed their asylum case
  • Emergency medicaid is available for undocumented immigrants, 19 and older. This program covers emergency scenarios such as severe cases or life-or-death situations, particularly through the ER
  • Undocumented migrants ineligible for healthcare programs can apply for NYC Care, which offers medical services in NYC residents based on income 

What types of health insurance coverage are available to immigrants in NYC?

Vivian Feng, Health Insurance Specialist within the Social Worker Department at Charles B. Wang Community Health Center and Luis Estevez, Linkage to Insurance Benefits Coordinator at Alliance for Positive Change, both said that immigrants lacking access to employer-provided health insurance might be eligible for specific programs based on household size, income, immigration status, and age. 

These programs include:

  • Medicaid: Offering free health insurance to low-income adults and children, Medicaid can also provide retroactive coverage for unpaid medical bills within 90 days of eligibility request. New York residents of more than five years can enroll in Medicaid, qualifying for essential plans contingent on income.
  • Essential Plan: For low-income adults who don’t meet Medicaid criteria, the Essential Plan delivers free or low cost insurance. Immigrants can qualify shortly after relocating to New York with a valid visa or deferred action status, but it doesn’t include DACA individuals.
  • Child Health Plus: This plan provides free or low-cost health insurance for children under 19 without Medicaid or alternative coverage.
  • Qualified Health Plan: Certified by the Health Insurance Marketplace and available directly from insurance companies, this option permits most immigrants to purchase private plans on the NY State of Health Marketplace, often with financial assistance. Any individual can buy private health insurance via insurers’ direct contact methods.

Each plan can be accessed via nystateofhealth.ny.gov

Feng highlighted that individuals aged over 65, who aren’t a parent or caretaker of minor children, as well as people who are covered by Medicare, and people who are disabled, should pursue coverage application through New York City’s Human Resources Administration (HRA). Individuals can contact 347-396-4705 for enrollment assistance. 

Is it possible for undocumented immigrants to purchase health insurance through the New York State of Health marketplace?

Undocumented immigrants are ineligible to buy Marketplace health coverage. However, there are still options for health services:

  • Undocumented immigrants aged 19 or older qualify for Emergency Medicaid, which is based on income rather than immigration status. This program covers emergency scenarios such as severe cases or life-or-death situations, particularly through the ER
  • Pregnant women: they can access full Medicaid coverage
  • Children under 19: they are eligible for Child Health Plus coverage

Feng added that undocumented immigrants facing financial constraints, and ineligible for healthcare, can seek medical services through NYC Care. NYC Care is a health program introduced by the city of New York and provides low-cost or free medical services to individuals who do not qualify for or cannot afford health insurance, including undocumented individuals. 

All NYC Care services are provided through NYC Health + Hospitals. Click here to check all the locations. Call its hotline at 646-NYC-CARE or visit its websitefor more information.

What is the process for applying for these health insurances and what documents are required?

Individuals can apply independently through the New York State of Health Marketplace’s website or seek assistance from in-person advisors (navigators, certified application counselors, certified Marketplace facilitated enrollers). You can visit this navigator directory page to find a navigator that speaks your language in your area by entering your ZIP code and preferred language.

It is essential to have the following documents prepared:

Household Information:

  • Social Security numbers. Feng noted that if applicants lack one, they need to undergo a proof of identity process with a navigator. Otherwise, obtaining health insurance from the Marketplace could be hindered.
  • Birth dates
  • Current employment and income details include pay stubs, tax statements, or W-2 forms. Feng recommended preparing pay stubs from the past year.
  • Insurance cards for household members with existing health insurance
  • A list of insurance plans accepted by your regular healthcare provider, if applicable
  • Proof of address, which could include a utility bill or lease, etc.
  • Contact information: phone number, email address

Immigration Documents:

Documents demonstrating legal immigration status in the United States may include:

  • Permanent Resident Card (Green Card/I-551)
  • Employment Authorization Card (I-766)
  • Naturalization Certificate
  • Arrival/Departure Record (I-94 or I-94A)
  • ORR Verification of Release Form (ORR UAC/R-1)
  • Passport
  • US Visa with 1-94 Stamp
  • I-797 USCIS Notice of Action
  • I-549 USCIS Acknowledgment of Receipt (those seeking asylum)

Estevez noted that undocumented immigrants often require proof of identification like IDNYC, or foreign passport, or a state driver’s license. 

For individuals who do not have a proof of ID, they can seek assistance filing form DOH-5090 from the Marketplace, which can help individuals complete the process without identification.

Also Read: Free Services in NYC for Childcare, Mental Health, Housing and More

What if I am an asylum seeker? 

According to Diana Kohout, a healthcare specialist with Salvation Insurance, asylum seekers are eligible for  the Essential Plan, New York State Medicaid, Child Health Plus, and Private/Qualified Health Plans. 

Kohout explained that asylum seekers can apply for these programs as soon as they mail their asylum application.  She told Documented that their asylum application does not need to be approved to apply for healthcare. 

Which documents do asylum seekers need to apply for healthcare? 

Applicants are required to provide a copy of their identification, which may consist of an unexpired foreign passport or a New York State ID

Kohout added that proof of being lawfully present status is necessary. This can be furnished through submission of their completed asylum application (Form I-589) along with the postal receipt, or a Notice of Action (Form I-797) which confirms the receipt and filing of their application.

She added that while proof of address is not mandatory, the insurance card must be deliverable to an address where mail can be received. “This may include your home, a shelter, a friend’s address, or a designated post office using general delivery services.”

What resources are available for immigrants who need help navigating the health insurance system in NYC?

People can also search for navigators based on specific languages and ZIP codes on the New York State of Health Marketplace’s website
Also read: Health Care Access for Immigrants in New York

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