By Kathy Ko Chin
It’s been three years since the passage of the Affordable Care Act. The Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, is the historic health reform bill signed by President Obama March 23, 2010.
On this third anniversary, there is much to celebrate: better access to key preventive services, the end of many discriminatory practices by insurance companies, near-universal coverage of birth control and easier access to essential health care that women need, and of course, starting in October the promise of a better way to shop for and enroll in health coverage. Even though these are huge wins, there are still major gaps that prevent all communities from being healthy and thriving.
Many immigrants are unfairly excluded from reaping the benefits of the Affordable Care Act and existing laws bar many from essential health programs. What do these policies mean in real terms? It means that young “DREAMers” – young adults granted temporary status under the administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, will not have access to affordable, preventive care that can help them stay healthy and do well in school. And it also means that migrants from the Compact of Free Association (COFA) nations (including the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Republic of Palau)are excluded from the very health programs they pay into, causing devastating effects on their health and economic stability.
It’s time for a reality check. Lack of insurance is a big problem for everyone, regardless of immigration status. But our laws unfairly single out immigrants in ways that prevent them from accessing the health care they need. Four and half million children born in the U.S. have an undocumented parent. The result? Despite qualifying for critical health programs like Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, they are often left out.The intersection of immigration laws and health care programs and eligibility rules creates a lot of confusion for many immigrant families. For example, there are many citizen children who have an undocumented parent. In these cases, the undocumented parent would not be eligible for federal programs (such as Medicaid), but the citizen child could be. Because the laws and restrictions are so complicated and oftentimes quite harsh, there is a chilling effect where parents don’t realize their citizen children are eligible or may be afraid to apply.
Undocumented immigrants are barred from the reform law’s new health insurance marketplaces, even if they are able to pay full price for plans using their own hard-earned money. That means many will go without critical preventive health care and may be forced to delay care until an emergency arises.
That’s why the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum has joined hundreds of social justice groups to urge the administration and members of Congress to include health care in any immigration reform package. The Asian Americans and Pacific Islander community includes a fast growing immigrant population and they’re ready for change. They’ve shown their support for health care reform and an overhaul of our broken immigration policies because they know firsthand the consequences of these intersections all too well.
And most Americans want the same thing. A recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 63 percent of Americans believe that if lawmakers pass new immigration policies that allow undocumented immigrants to earn legal status, those who attain this status should have full access to the health coverage options offered by the health care law.
As we commemorate the third anniversary of this outstanding moment in history, let’s remember that great strides have been made to create a framework for health equity. But to continue to deny hardworking immigrants and their families affordable health care services is an affront to our morals and puts our economic health at risk. Our laws should protect, rather than restrict our health.
It’s time that Congress hears our call to action so that next year, when health insurance coverage opportunities become available to millions more, all communities realize the full promise of health reform.
Kathy Ko Chin is president and chief executive officer of the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum (APIAHF), a national health justice organization which influences policy, mobilizes communities and strengthens programs and organizations to improve the health of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders.
Do you have an opinion on a social issue? Send your essay to email@example.com. Asian Fortune reserves the right to edit or reject essays.