Covid-19’s devastating toll has been devastating for everyone. However, one of the most severely affected groups of people has been vulnerable residents such as seniors. Undocumented seniors, to be precise, don’t generally have access to health insurance due to their undocumented status, which leaves them without options when it comes to medical care.
As a result, many undocumented seniors have lost the battle to Covid-19, even when it could have been prevented. Experts believe that some of the death and suffering occurring among undocumented seniors could have been mitigated with regular treatment and check-ups.
Hurdles to healthcare for the undocumented have always gone beyond policy and vary from financial difficulties to discrimination, as well as fear of deportation. Policies that prevent undocumented immigrants from seeking medical care are prevalent and vary from state to state. Some range from denying undocumented immigrants total access to care to providing limited access to emergency or preventative medical assistance.
But there is now some light at what has been a long and dark tunnel that promised reprieve. Amid surging cases of the pandemic that have severely impacted low-income communities, Illinois paved the way by becoming the 1st state to provide low-income undocumented seniors with public health insurance.
Eventually, the hope is that the government will soon expand these efforts to children and young adults that are still undocumented. Other states have already been inspired by Illinois’ bold but necessary move. Case in point, California’s democratic legislators are similarly fighting to have undocumented immigrants covered by health insurance.
Offering medical coverage to undocumented seniors older than 65 years is something that advocates have fought for decades. This medical coverage is critical as it will help to mitigate the racial inequalities that are currently taking place in Covid-19 infections and deaths. The medical coverage will also offer much-needed assistance in the face of a huge economic burden.
Undocumented immigrants have always faced barriers when it comes to healthcare
The decision to build a new life in another country is not one that should be taken lightly. And yet, the number of immigrants continues to grow. For those without proper documentation, the challenges of fitting into a brand new life can be severe.
Even though healthcare coverage in the country is as accessible as it will ever be, immigrants, especially those undocumented, are still barred from it. Everyone has a right to healthcare while ensuring that they are not exposed to severe economic hardships.
The zero-tolerance migration policy that’s been present in the country since 2018 has only made it harder for immigrants to access the care that they need so much. And yet, without immigrants and their immeasurable contributions, it’s hard to imagine where the state let alone the country as a large would be.
Lest we forget, undocumented immigrants make up a huge percentage of the state’s essential workers, which is what has helped the economy keep moving amid surging pandemic infections. Undocumented workers have braved the circumstances risking infection and exposure in their various capacities and roles- the least that they deserve is access to public healthcare.
Apart from making sure that the state’s economy doesn’t come to a standstill, immigrants, undocumented or otherwise, generate tax revenue worth billions that helps to fund the medical programs that are accessible only by those that pass the mark legally. Undocumented immigrants contribute billions worth of funds each year to Social Security and Medicare, the national insurance program, and of course, this new safety net for undocumented seniors.
Unlike Medicare, which is under federal control, Medicaid is administered by the state, which is what has enabled Illinois to make this pioneering decision. Other individual states, therefore, have the mandate to emulate Illinois in providing low-income undocumented seniors with the necessary care.
Providing healthcare services to undocumented seniors would allow immigrants to seek the medical care that they need during this complex time. It also means that hospitals in the state no longer have to absorb the financial losses that come with giving undocumented immigrants healthcare gratis.
With time, Illinois should have the ability to expand this care to children. In 2015, California became the first state to offer full Medicaid to undocumented children. California also offers the same coverage to young adults (up to 26 years old). Increasing Medicaid covering to immigrants is needed in the fight to quell the rising infection cases.
If these underprivileged communities are given Medicaid support, they will be able to easily access inclusive coronavirus testing and treatment, which will considerably bring down the infection cases and death disproportions being observed all across the nation.
People should never have to be afraid of accessing healthcare because they risk detention or deportation. Health facilities should be safe strongholds, more so now, when everyone needs sanctuary when they get seriously infected. As such, it is the responsibility of the state and national healthcare policy planners to make this vision a reality.
Immigrants all over the country need access to healthcare now more than ever. And still, faced with a worsening pandemic whose death toll keeps rising, numerous states have failed to provide the critically at-risk population of immigrants and other low-income groups access to health support services.
The state of Illinois has done a great thing by becoming the first to enact this legislation and other states should soon follow suit. The pandemic has only highlighted the dire need for a robust safety-net that includes undocumented immigrants all over the country. It is no secret that the pandemic has been the hardest on communities of color- and yet leaders in most states are yet to take the necessary action.
Increasing access to undocumented seniors is only one step in a long string of many. Other complex issues affecting immigrants that require far-reaching actions include protections for immigrant workers, access to housing, and financial support. Unless undocumented immigrants receive the access that they deserve, their health will continue to be affected severely during the pandemic.