HEAL Act Expands Access to Health Care Regardless of Immigration Status

May 20, 2020

– Hayley Burgess, National Immigration Law Center, 202-805-0375, [email protected]
– Nikki Metzgar, National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, 202-599-7642, [email protected]

The HEAL Act Expands Access to Health Care Regardless of Immigration Status

Legislation sponsored by Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) marks bill’s first-ever Senate introduction

WASHINGTON, DC — Today, Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced the Health Equity and Access under the Law (HEAL) for Immigrant Women and Families Act to expand immigrants’ access to crucial and comprehensive health care, with support from more than 250 organizations. This year marks the bill’s first-ever introduction in the Senate, and it comes at a time when it is abundantly clear that health coverage and care are critical for every person, family, and community.

The HEAL Act would open access to care by removing the five-year bar that immigrants must wait before becoming eligible for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). It would enable undocumented immigrants to purchase health insurance plans from the online marketplace made available by the Affordable Care Act and restore Medicaid eligibility to Compact of Free Association (COFA) migrants.

Insured rates are considerably lower among non–U.S. citizens, including both documented and undocumented immigrants. Barriers to health coverage disproportionately harm immigrant women, who make up the majority of immigrants and are particularly likely to have low incomes and be young and uninsured. According to the Guttmacher Institute, nearly half of noncitizen immigrant women of reproductive age who would otherwise qualify for Medicaid are uninsured.

“COVID-19 has shined a punishing light on the unjust health care inequities that exist for communities of color broadly, and immigrant communities in particular,” said U.S. Senator Cory Booker. “While we should always be working to expand access to health care for everyone, the dire current situation highlights the urgency of addressing these gaps in health care coverage. Health care is a right, and it shouldn’t depend on immigration status. We’re never going to be able to slow and stop the spread of the virus if we continue to deny entire communities access to testing, treatment, or care.”

“If it isn’t affordable, then health care just isn’t accessible. For years, policy decisions about our health have forced immigrant women to fend for ourselves,” said Sung Yeon Choimorrow, executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum. “Now, more than ever, it’s clear that every person should be able to get health care no matter how long they have been in the U.S. or the status they have been granted. Asian American and Pacific Islander women have been leading the charge for this groundbreaking legislation because our lived experiences show that access to the health care that is central to our agency and our lives, our families, and our communities.”

“Everyone needs access to the full range of reproductive health care to live with dignity and thrive. The current pandemic has placed a spotlight on the inequities in healthcare access that many Latinas/xs, people of color, people with low incomes and im/migrants face,” said Ann Marie Benitez, senior director of government relations at National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice. “At the Latina Institute, we are proud to have been in the forefront among the leaders driving the push for the HEAL for Immigrant Women and Families Act, and we applaud Sen. Cory Booker for introducing this bold legislation that would extend healthcare coverage to all im/migrant families, regardless of their documentation status or how long they have been living in the U.S. Healthcare is a human right, and the HEAL for Immigrant Women and Families Act is a step forward in expanding healthcare coverage.”

“The current pandemic has emphasized that while Black immigrants continue to risk their lives at the frontlines of the crisis, many are unable to access lifesaving testing and treatment. The HEAL for Immigrant Women and Families Act moves us closer to rightfully seeing healthcare as a human right rather than a luxury,” said Catherine Labiran, Gender Justice Program coordinator at the Black Alliance for Just Immigration. “Not only does the five-year waiting period for Medicaid result in the manifestation of preventable medical conditions, it also impacts the quality of care that people receive after that point. With a lack of medical history in the U.S., many experience misdiagnoses and have to advocate for themselves so that their concerns are heard and acted upon.”

“In these difficult times, it is abundantly clear that our personal health and well-being are interdependent with our neighbors’, coworkers’, and society’s at large,” said Kamal Essaheb, deputy director of the National Immigration Law Center. “NILC is proud to support the HEAL Act and hold it up as an example of the kind of policy solutions Congress should be passing right now. Protecting the health and well-being of immigrants will ensure the health and well-being of us all.”

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The National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF) is the only multi-issue, progressive, community organizing and policy advocacy organization for Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) women and girls in the U.S. NAPAWF’s mission is to build collective power so that all AAPI women and girls can have full agency over our lives, our families, and our communities.

National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice (the Latina Institute) is the only national reproductive justice organization dedicated to building Latina/x power to advance health, dignity, and justice for 29 million Latinas/xs, their families, and communities in the United States through leadership development, community mobilization, policy advocacy, and strategic communications.

Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) educates and engages African American and Black immigrant communities to organize and advocate for racial, social and economic justice. Local BAJI Organizing Committees in New York, Georgia, California and Arizona build coalitions and initiate campaigns among communities to push for racial justice. At the local and regional level, BAJI provides training and technical assistance to partner organizations to develop leadership skills, works with faith communities to harness their prophetic voice, and initiates vibrant dialogues with African Americans and Black immigrants to discover more about race, our diverse identities, racism, migration and globalization.

Founded in 1979, the National Immigration Law Center is the leading advocacy or­ganization in the United States exclusively dedicated to defending and advancing the rights and opportunities of low-income immigrants and their loved ones. NILC’s mission is grounded in the belief that everyone living in the U.S. — regardless of race, gen­der/gender identity, immigration, and economic status — should have equal access to justice, resources, and educational and economic opportunities that enable them to achieve their full human potential. NILC is committed to advancing its mission — which intersects race, immigration status, and class — through a racial, economic, and gender justice and equity orientation. NILC seeks to achieve just laws and policies that address systemic inequities, create narrative and culture change for an inclusive and equitable society, and build a healthier and more powerful movement.