New report shows immigrants are about twice as likely to be uninsured

Ed. note: This is a guest post from Verónica Bayetti Flores. Verónica is the Assistant Director of the Civil Liberties and Public Policy program (CLPP) at Hampshire College. She has worked to increase access to contraception and abortion, fought for paid sick leave, demanded access to safe public space for queer youth of color, and helped to lead social justice efforts in Wisconsin, New York City, and Texas.

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Last week, the Guttmacher Institute published a history and overview of policies that impact immigrants’ access to health care, and in particular reproductive and sexual health care. It’s definitely a piece for the policy nerds, but it makes some critical points about the ways anti-immigrant sentiment has shaped access to health care in immigrants lives–basic care like cancer screenings, birth control, abortion, and preventive care.

As a result of this patchwork of policies, millions of immigrant women and their families who live, go to school and work in communities all around the country are effectively blocked from obtaining health insurance. This disparity in coverage hinders immigrants’ ability to obtain health care, including sexual and reproductive health services, which puts them at disproportionately high risk of negative health outcomes.

As we’re about to embark toward immigration reform, it bears remembering that immigrants disproportionately lack health care, and that a critical piece of a reform that resembles even the palest shade of justice is to open up access to health care. 

If this federal legislation is enacted, it will likely grant some form of provisional status to undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States. With that status, whatever it may be, should come access to affordable public and private health insurance options, and the increased access to sexual and reproductive health services that insurance coverage makes possible. Indeed, this principle already has broad public support: Most Americans believe upon obtaining provisional status, immigrants should be able to access Medicaid (63%) and subsidies to affordably buy insurance on the exchanges (59%).

But the immigration reform bill that the Senate put out does little to remedy the lack of access to health care available to immigrant communities. In fact, as it’s written now, low-income undocumented folks will have to wait 15 years to gain access to public health insurance. But it’s not time to be mopey about what a terrible situation this is–it’s time to get active.

If you’re not doing so already, stay informed of what’s going on–there’s some great coverage over at ColorLines. Tell your elected officials that 15 years is too long to wait for health care. And maybe most importantly, pay attention to what the folks who will be most affected by these reforms have to say – organizations led by and advocating for undocumented folks, like the New York State Youth Leadership Council, are a great place to start.

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