Illinois is the Nation’s First State to Extend Health Coverage to Undocumented Seniors
As a nurse manager for one of Chicago’s busiest safety-net hospitals, Raquel Prendkowski has witnessed COVID-19‘s devastating toll on many of the city’s most vulnerable residents — including people who lack health insurance because of their immigration status. Some come in so sick they go right to intensive care. Some don’t survive.
“We’re in a bad dream all the time,” she said during a recent day treating coronavirus patients at Mount Sinai Hospital, which was founded in the early 20th century to care for the city’s poorest immigrants. “I can’t wait to wake up from this.”
Prendkowski believes some of the death and suffering could have been avoided if more of these people had regular treatment for the types of chronic conditions — asthma, diabetes, heart disease — that can worsen COVID-19. She now sees a new reason for hope.
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Amid a deadly virus outbreak that has disproportionately stricken Latino communities, Illinois recently became the first state to provide public health insurance to all low-income noncitizen seniors, even if they’re in the country illegally. Advocates for immigrants expect it will inspire other states to do the same, building on efforts to cover undocumented children and young adults. Currently, Democratic legislators in California are pushing to expand coverage to all low-income undocumented immigrants there.
“The fact that we’re going to do this during the pandemic really shows our commitment to expansion and broadening health care access. It’s an amazing first step in the door,” said Graciela Guzmán, campaign director for Healthy Illinois, a group that advocates for universal coverage.
Undocumented immigrants without health insurance often skip care. That was the case for Victoria Hernandez, 68, a house cleaner who lives in West Chicago, a suburb. The Mexico City native said she had avoided going to the doctor because she didn’t have coverage. Eventually, she found a charity program to help her get treatment, including for her prediabetes. She said she intends to enroll in the new state plan.
“I’m very thankful for the new program,” she said through a translator who works for the DuPage Health Coalition, a nonprofit that coordinates charity care for the uninsured in DuPage County, the state’s second-most populous. “I know it will help a lot of people like me.”
Healthy Illinois pushed state lawmakers to offer health benefits to all low-income immigrants. But the legislature opted instead for a smaller program that covers people 65 and older who are undocumented or have been legal permanent residents, also known as green card holders, for less than five years. (These groups don’t typically qualify for government health insurance.) Participants must have an income at or below the federal poverty level, which is $12,670 for an individual or $17,240 for a couple. It covers services like hospital and doctor visits, prescription drugs, and dental and vision care (though not stays in nursing facilities), at no cost to the patient.
The new policy continues a trend of expanding government health coverage to undocumented immigrants.
To read the full article, visit https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/articles/2021-01-07/illinois-is-first-in-the-nation-to-extend-health-coverage-to-undocumented-seniors . This article was originally published on 1/7/2021 by Kaiser Health News, written by Giles Bruce.