California has more immigrants than any other state. At least one in four Californians – more than 10 million people – were born in another country.
And they’re a diverse bunch: Some immigrants, like my parents, are naturalized U.S. citizens. Others are green card holders. Some live here illegally. In addition, there are many thousands of people who have temporary status here on work or student visas.
Lots of you have asked how the Affordable Care Act affects immigrants. How I’d love to hand you a one-size-fits-all response! But this is Obamacare, after all, and the law treats categories of immigrants differently.
The insurance requirement isn’t as ironclad for people with temporary visas. Some will have to abide and some won’t. (Thanks, Obamacare!) If you’re not sure where you fall, check with an immigration attorney.
Whether you’re eligible for zero, some, or all Obamacare programs depends on your legal status:
• Naturalized U.S. citizens are eligible for all Obamacare benefits, including the expansion of California’s Medicaid program for low-income residents, which is calledMedi-Cal
They also can receive tax credits for plans purchased through the state’s health insurance exchange, Covered California (as long as they meet the income guidelines and other qualifications).
• Lawful permanent residents (also known as green card holders); people with temporary work and student visas (such as H-1B, J and F visas); refugees and asylees; Cuban/Haitian entrants; and others can all buy from the exchange and apply for tax credits. Click
to see the full list.
People in most of those categories also will be eligible for expanded Medi-Cal if their incomes qualify. Some states – but not California – require a five-year waiting period before allowing certain immigrants to enroll.
• People who are here illegally cannot participate in any of these programs, but can receive emergency or prenatal treatment, as they do now. They also don’t have to comply with the Obamacare requirement.
Does health insurance from another country qualify? Probably not. Coverage from a foreign insurer does not meet the Obamacare requirement unless the insurer has received approval from the federal government, says Jenny Rejeske, health policy analyst for the National Immigration Law Center.
Check with your insurer to find out whether it has sought and received approval. If not, you’ll need to find coverage that meets Obamacare’s standards, qualify for one of the law’s exemptions or pay the tax penalty. On the bright side, you may be eligible for tax credits or other financial help.
But just because a parent (or parents) are in the country illegally doesn’t mean their children are, too. Many such children were born here and are citizens, and are eligible for health care benefits. (Note: Parents who apply for their children but not for themselves will not be asked for their immigration status.)
“Most immigrants live in mixed-status families,” Rejeske says. “You may have an undocumented parent who’s not eligible for anything. There may be a citizen child who’s eligible for Medi-Cal. You may have a lawfully present parent who is eligible for the exchanges.”
She ends with my favorite Obamacare truism: “It can get very complicated.”
In the absence of legislative action, President Obama announced the creation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program for those young people in 2012.
DACA provides them temporary status for two years and work authorization, and may be renewed. Luis, who wrote in from Modesto, is among them.
First, Luis, as a DACA recipient, you are not required to have insurance under Obamacare.
If you actually want insurance, however, you can’t buy it from Covered California. DACA recipients are barred from the health insurance exchange.
But you may be eligible for Medi-Cal, depending on your income. Unlike some other states, California law allows DACA recipients to sign up for Medi-Cal if they qualify.
Emily Bazar will answer Sacramento Bee readers’ questions about the health insurance reform law at 11:30 a.m. on Thursday, Dec. 5, in a live online chat. Joining her will be health care reporters Pauline Bartolone of Capitol Public Radio and The Bee’s Cynthia Craft. Share your comments and questions in the chat at:
OBAMACARE & YOU
On Monday, Dec. 9, Emily Bazar will appear live at Sacramento State’s Union Ballroom, 6000 J St., for a question-and-answer session, “Obamacare & You.” The event begins at 6:30 p.m. Get details on The Bee’s Healthy Choices blog at: