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Counties and States Insuring the Undocumented

March 29, 2016
Plain English Version


Undocumented migrants are not included in the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare).

That has left most of the undocumented with only one place to go: the emergency room. There are 30 million uninsured people in America. One out of four is not documented. Some of the undocumented may get private or workplace insurance through spouses.

Many undocumented people go to local community health clinics. There are not enough of these clinics to meet basic health needs.

There is good news. Counties and states are providing health care to many undocumented. The basic reason: it makes sense to give people health care. It will keep them (and others) from getting sicker.

Counties with large numbers of migrants are leading the way. Here are the biggest counties giving care to undocumented persons.

County                        Undocumented                     # Served

L.A., Calif.                    1,062,000                              135,000

Harris, Texas              373,000                                 65,000

Cook, Ill,                      323,000                                 20,000

Dallas, Texas              242,000                                 115,000

Queens, N.Y.               238,000                                 71,000

Kings, N.Y.                  181,000                                 80,000

Riverside, Calif.          158,000                                 7,600

This is called “immigration reform from the ground up.” Non-emergency care is going to at least 750,000 people. The cost is more than $1 billion. Almost all funds come from the counties. More states are beginning to put money into these kinds of efforts.

The programs pay for doctor visits, shots, prescription drugs, lab tests and surgeries. The services usually are cheap or free to participants. Immigration status does not matter.

Many people believe it is unfair to use tax dollars to help undocumented immigrants. Hospitals have to treat anyone who comes into their emergency rooms. This means taxpayers already are paying for the most costly types of care.

Some states put the undocumented on state Medicaid programs. Sixteen states cover the medical costs of undocumented children and pregnant women.

The debate about immigration goes on. The pressing need for health care also goes on. Many places are meeting that challenge. In some ways, it is America at work.

Source: The Wall Street Journal March 24, 2016

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