Obamacare FAQ: Options for Immigrants

A view of the the Statue of Liberty. (Timothy Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

A view of the the Statue of Liberty. (Timothy Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

The March 31 deadline to sign up for health insurance is now less than two weeks away. On Monday, enrollment on Covered California went over the 1 million mark. But there are literally millions more Californians currently uninsured.

Many of those eligible for benefits under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) are immigrants. If you are a lawfully present immigrant you likely qualify for the benefits — and responsibilities — of the ACA. This means if you do not sign up for insurance by March 31, you may have to pay a fine next year on your taxes. This is either $95 per adult or 1 percent of your income, whichever is greater. For example, if you earn $30,000 a year, you might have to pay a $300 fine.

On the flip side, you may qualify for a subsidy to help you purchase health insurance. You do not need a green card to qualify. There is a long list of visas under which immigrants might be lawfully present in the U.S. Check this list from the federal government to see if your immigration status or visa means that you can quality for benefits.  Continue reading

Obamacare FAQ: Do Immigrants Qualify?

A view of the the Statue of Liberty. (Timothy Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

A view of the the Statue of Liberty. (Timothy Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

Editor’s note: For people buying on the individual market who want health insurance starting Jan. 1, the deadline to sign up is Monday, Dec. 23. State of Health is running one post a day with questions and answers on both the Affordable Care Act and Covered California until that deadline. This installment comes from KQED’s Obamacare Guide, written specifically for Californians.

The headline for immigrants is that if you are “lawfully present” (the legal term of art), you are eligible for the benefits — and responsibilities — of the Affordable Care Act. This means you may qualify for subsidies to purchase insurance, but it also means you may have to pay a penalty if you do not carry health insurance. While naturalized citizens and green card holders may be aware of how Obamacare affects them, for other immigrants, access to these kinds of benefits is new. Undocumented immigrants are not eligible for any benefits of the ACA. They do not have to pay a penalty if they do not carry health insurance.

I Am in the U.S. Legally, But I Do Not Have a Green Card. I Am Here under a Different Kind of Visa. What Does the Health Law Mean to Me?

U.S. law includes a wide variety of ways in which immigrants can be lawfully present, even if they are not green card holders. Continue reading

For Legal Immigrants, Obamacare Has Options for Aging Parents

A view of the the Statue of Liberty. (Timothy Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

A view of the the Statue of Liberty. (Timothy Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

Mohan Iyer has been in a bind. He’s lived in the U.S. since he came here for college from India in 1980. He ultimately got a job, a green card and became a citizen in 1994. Most of his siblings live here now, too.

After his father passed away two years ago, Iyer and his siblings have wanted their mother to move here. But there’s one big problem: she is effectively barred from any kind of reliable health insurance.

“Health care has been a big issue,” said Iyer, who is 50 and lives in Menlo Park.

New immigrants of any age can purchase health insurance on Covered California
That’s because new immigrants over age 65 are not eligible for Medicare. For legal immigrants like Iyer, who are people of working age, the impossibility of obtaining health insurance for their parents has been a barrier in their hopes of moving aging parents or grandparents to the U.S.

Americans over 65 tend not to worry much about health insurance, because of Medicare, the government insurance program for the elderly and the disabled. But while Medicare is available to virtually all citizens, starting at age 65, immigrants legally present in the U.S. for less than five years are not eligible.

And because of the very existence of Medicare, private insurance companies generally do not offer health insurance plans for those over 65. “There are health insurance options,” Iyer said, “but these are usually catastrophic traveler’s insurance. They usually have a very high deductible and they’re expensive.”

They also tend to exclude pre-existing conditions, he said. Continue reading

For Immigrants, Language and Knowledge are Barriers in Obamacare Enrollment

Covered California opened for enrollment Tuesday morning. (Lisa Aliferis/KQED)

Covered California opened for enrollment Tuesday morning. (Lisa Aliferis/KQED)

By Anna Gorman, Kaiser Health News

Carrying Spanish-language brochures, outreach worker Sandra Pena walked around a crowded health clinic in Bell Gardens in Southern California early Tuesday morning.

“Have you heard of the program Obamacare?” Pena asked a group of patients. A few nodded. Others stared blankly.

As enrollment began around the nation, the scene at this Wesley Health Center underscored one of the major challenges facing officials – overcoming the lack of awareness.

Some had never heard of the new law and few knew that Oct. 1 was the first day of enrollment.

Nearly all of the patients in the crowded waiting room were Latino, including several first-generation immigrants. Some had never heard of the new law and few knew that Oct. 1 was the first day of enrollment.

“There are tons of people who don’t know what’s going on today,” said Valerie Lopez, an outreach worker at the center.

Pena explained to the patients at the health center that starting Tuesday, they could sign up for new health coverage that would begin Jan. 1. Depending on their income, they would either qualify for free insurance through Medicaid (called Medi-Cal here) or for discounted private insurance through Covered California, the state’s online health insurance marketplace. And she warned about the penalty that most people who don’t have insurance would face in 2014.

The patients asked many questions: Do I have to pay a fine if I am not working? Do I still qualify for Medi-Cal if I own a home? Are there people to help me fill out the application? Pena didn’t know all the answers, but she said people would be available soon to help with enrollment. There was no one at the center who could actually help people enroll. They are still being trained. Continue reading