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Ask Emily on Take Two: How does Obamacare work for immigrants?


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Emily Bazar of the California Healthcare Foundation Center for Health Reporting joins host A Martinez to answer consumers’ questions about the Affordable Health Act.

This week she addresses questions of coverage for immigrants, both legal and not.

Interview Highlights:

Does Obamacare cover unauthorized or illegal immigrants?
"That's an easy answer. In this case, people who are in the country illegally are not eligible for any Obamacare benefits whether it's the health insurance exchanges or expansion of Medicaid. They're not eligible, but at the same time they don't have to meet the Obamacare requirement to carry health insurance."

What about those under the Deferred Action program?
"The answer to this one is a little bit more complicated. This answer has to do with the Dream Act, listeners probably remember that proposed legislation or remember hearing about it. And that would have allowed young people, like you said who were brought to the country illegally by their parents, to apply for temporary status that ultimately could lead to permanent legal status in the United States. Well, that was never passed in Washington D.C. and in the absence of any legislative action, President Obama created a new kind of status. It's called the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and this provides these young people temporary status for two years and work authorization and this status can be renewed. 

RELATED: Everything you need to know about Obamacare and Covered California

"Now, I have received questions from some of these young people about whether or not they can benefit from Obamacare. First off, they don't have to comply with the Obamacare insurance requirement either. So, they don't have to buy insurance, but if they want to they have some options. The health insurance exchange, which in California is called Covered California is not one of those options. They are barred from using our or any other health insurance exchange. However, they may be eligible for Medi-Cal, which is expanding on January 1st under Obamacare. And it depends on their income and California is allowing these youth to apply for Medi-Cal and get that program if they meet the requirements. Not all states are doing that."

Are naturalized citizens or those who have green cards required to be insured?
"Yes, it's just like peeling an onion. It just gets more and more complicated. The simple answer to that question is yes. Anybody who is a naturalized immigrant or a legal immigrant, and that isn't only green card holders, but if you're a legal immigrant you have to comply with the Obamacare requirement. You have to carry a minimum level of health insurance starting January 1st. 

Do they qualify for subsidies, exchanges or Medi-Cal?
"Again, the simple answer is yes. Naturalized citizens qualify for everything. Medicaid expansion, the health insurance exchange and legal immigrants, most of them, we're talking about green card holder, people who are refugees, asylees and other classes of immigrants can actually qualify for the health insurance exchange. Now people in most of these categories also will be eligible for the expanded Medi-Cal, but to be sure they need to really check out if their legal status fits into Obamacare and if they have to consult an immigration attorney. And I'm sorry to say that, but just to be sure that will probably be the best thing to do. 

"One thing I wanted to add is that even some people who are here in temporary visas, like work visas or student visas, they can purchase health insurance from the health insurance exchange, but whether or not they are actually required to meet the Obamacare requirement that is also kind of an open question that depends on their status. They should check with an immigration attorney."

What if you moved here from another country and you're still covered under an insurance in your home country, does that exempt you?
"It does not. Actually, if you're here legally, again, if you're a legal immigrant you have to have insurance under Obamacare. Now then the question becomes does your insurance that is provided by a foreign insurer count? Probably not. What the federal government has said is that foreign insurers can come to us and ask for permission to be adequate under the Obamacare requirement, but they must get permission first. 

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The CHCF Center for Health Reporting partners with news organizations to cover California health policy. Located at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, it is funded by the nonpartisan California HealthCare Foundation.