Families Losing Health Coverage

September 30, 2014

Adela de la Torre, 213-400-7822, [email protected]

As Families Lose Health Coverage, Groups File Complaints and Attempt to Find Out Why

National Immigration Law Center and others fear eligible families were unaware of immigration or citizenship data inconsistencies in their applications

LOS ANGELES — After months of missteps and technological glitches, eligible immigrant families may lose their health insurance coverage tomorrow, advocates say, and they don’t know why.

Attorneys with the National Immigration Law Center and the law firm Holland & Knight joined advocates in Pennsylvania and Illinois to fileadministrative complaints contending that recent notices of termination of insurance were sent only in English or Spanish, violating the antidiscrimination provisions of the Affordable Care Act. The National Immigration Law Center and Holland & Knight also filed a Freedom of Information Act request to learn more about the 115,000 people who bought health coverage but earlier this month were notified that they had not provided sufficient proof of their immigration or citizenship status and that therefore their coverage would be terminated on September 30.

Many of these immigrant families have fought verification challenges for months, submitting paperwork proving their eligibility several times. Furthermore, the health care termination notices were sent only in English or Spanish, which leaves immigrant families from Europe, Asia, and parts of Africa particularly vulnerable to losing health coverage they need.

“The language you speak, the money in your pocket, or your zip code shouldn’t determine whether or not you have access to affordable health care,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center. “Unfortunately, these factors will result in a loss of coverage for immigrant families who don’t speak English or Spanish and did not receive meaningful notice from the federal government. We will continue to fight to ensure that these people aren’t living one accident or illness away from bankruptcy.”

The Freedom of Information Act request seeks information about how the 115,000 termination notices were sent, open rates for termination notices sent electronically, and information about whether those notified of health coverage termination had previously indicated that they prefer to receive information in a language other than English or Spanish.

“Part of what makes this problem so discouraging to consumers is that it was completely preventable: had the Marketplace communicated with consumers in a language they understand, many of the families would have been able to realize the urgency of these notices and respond promptly,” said Thoai Nguyen, CEO of Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Associations Coalition, which assisted Asian immigrants with their health insurance applications. “It is very important for the Marketplace to collect better data on the preferred languages of consumers and commit to translating notices and announcements in their primary languages or coordinate with community-based organizations to assist with consumers whose English proficiency is limited.”

Health and Human Services officials have struggled for months to verify the immigration or citizenship status for many who bought insurance under Obamacare. In August, the department sent notices to more than 300,000 families informing them that they needed to resubmit information verifying their eligibility to purchase health insurance through the federal Marketplace. According to advocates, many of these individuals had already submitted paperwork several times, causing growing frustration for health care applicants.

“We don’t know what happened to the immigration documents we helped customers to file over several months, and many of our clients fear that their information was simply misplaced,” said Luvia Quiñones, health policy director at the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, which filed the administrative complaint in Illinois. “For months, we felt like we were simply sending these documents into a bureaucratic black hole.”

Still, according to health officials, the vast majority of applicants who submitted paperwork before the September 5 deadline proved to be eligible to buy health insurance. Advocates believe that many of the remaining 115,000 who did not respond to governmental requests for additional paperwork are also eligible for Obamacare, but they may have been unaware of a need to file additional information to keep their coverage because either they had already submitted information in the past or they got notices only in a language they could not understand.

The Freedom of Information Act request and administrative complaints are available at www.nilc.org/healthcarelitig.html.

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