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Undocumented and Uninsured: Bringing Healthcare to Immigrants


The debate over whether undocumented immigrants should have access to health coverage has received renewed attention over the last few years. The leading Democratic presidential hopefuls have all come out in favor of providing healthcare to undocumented immigrants, but no detailed plans have yet emerged.

On one side of the debate, some believe undocumented immigrants deserve access to affordable healthcare just like any other human being living in the U.S. Healthcare is a right, not a privilege. After all, we all need healthcare at some point in our lives.

On the other side of the debate, some believe U.S. citizens shouldn’t be paying for healthcare for undocumented immigrants. These individuals chose to come into the country illegally, therefore they should be barred from accessing government services, such as Medicaid and Medicare.

Regardless of where you stand on this issue, learn more about what it’s like to get healthcare as an undocumented immigrant and how you can help those in need, even if they don’t have insurance.

Getting Healthcare as an Undocumented Immigrant

According to recent estimates, there are around 10.5 million undocumented immigrants residing in the U.S., accounting for about 3% of the total population. Undocumented immigrants are those who entered the country without authorization and individuals who entered the country lawfully and stayed after their visas or statuses expired.

Undocumented immigrants are more likely to be uninsured compared to U.S. citizens and immigrants who enter the country legally. Among the total nonelderly population, 45% of undocumented immigrants do not have health insurance, while 23% of lawfully present immigrants and just 8% of U.S. citizens do not have health insurance.

Under current law, undocumented immigrants are barred from accessing federal insurance programs like Medicare and Medicaid. They also can’t purchase health plans on the ACA marketplace.

Even though most undocumented immigrants have at least one family member working a full-time job, undocumented immigrants are typically employed in low-wage jobs that are less likely to offer employer-sponsored health insurance. Even if the employer offers health coverage, some families may lack the means to pay for it. However, some undocumented immigrants may be able to get health insurance through their spouse’s employer or as the dependent of a family member with health insurance.

Due to a lack of insurance, undocumented immigrants tend to forgo or delay care. This may save them money in the short-term, but their symptoms and overall health may worsen over time. More often than not, the longer the patient waits to receive care, the more difficult their condition is to treat.

Undocumented immigrants may be able obtain care at local, non-profit healthcare centers; however, these community centers typically do not offer specialty care services. Undocumented immigrants may be able to get a physical and treat common conditions, but specialty care services may still be out of reach.

Some state- or locally funded insurance groups may offer health plans to undocumented immigrants. These groups typically set insurance rates based on income, regardless of the beneficiary’s immigration status. Student healthcare programs may also be an option for some immigrants.

Rather unsurprisingly, undocumented immigrants spend less on health care, compared to their U.S. born counterparts. They tend to pay for these services out of pocket, so they typically use less healthcare than U.S. citizens.

How to Help as a Healthcare Provider

If an undocumented immigrant or the family member of an undocumented immigrant needs help finding care, here’s what you need to know as a healthcare provider:

First of all, under federal law, all hospitals are required to screen and stabilize every patient who seeks emergency care, regardless of immigration status. Medicaid offers payments to help offset these expenses.

If the patient isn’t seeking emergency care but they’re uninsured, you can direct them to a range of local free or low-cost healthcare centers. Talk to them about exploring their options when it comes to signing up for health insurance, including state- and locally funded organizations, student health plans, and employer-sponsored plans.

It’s important to remember that just because an immigrant has a green card or is in the country legally doesn’t mean they feel comfortable accessing healthcare services. Studies show that the Trump Administration’s immigration policies are leading to substantially increased fears among the immigrant community, affecting undocumented immigrants as well as lawfully present immigrants and citizen children of immigrants. Some families and individuals may decide it’s better to stay at home than risk giving their information to a healthcare provider.


Immigrants, whether documented or not, should know how to go about accessing vital healthcare services. Keep this information in mind when helping your patients find the care they need.

Steven Briggs
Steven Briggs is a healthcare writer for Scrubs Magazine, hailing from Brooklyn, NY. With both of his parents working in the healthcare industry, Steven writes about the various issues and concerns facing the industry today.

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