Navigating the health insurance system in the United States can be confusing for anyone. When you are an immigrant, the process can be even more muddled. Eligibility for programs and access to benefits depends on your specific immigration status.
What are the health insurance options for immigrants in lawful status?
If you are "lawfully present" here in the United States, then you are eligible to purchase insurance on the new Health Insurance Marketplace (Marketplace) under the Affordable Care Act:
You are "lawfully present" if you fall under one of the following categories:
- Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR/Green Card holder)
- Cuban/Haitian Entrant
- Paroled into the U.S.
- Conditional Entrant Granted before 1980
- Battered Spouse, Child and Parent
- Victim of Trafficking and his/her Spouse, Child, Sibling or Parent
- Granted Withholding of Deportation or Withholding of Removal, under the immigration laws or under the Convention against Torture (CAT)
- Individual with Non-immigrant Status (includes worker visas, student visas, and citizens of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, and Palau)
- Temporary Protected Status (TPS)
- Deferred Enforced Departure (DED)
- Deferred Action Status (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is not an eligible immigration status for applying for health insurance)
- Lawful Temporary Resident
- Administrative order staying removal issued by the Department of Homeland Security
- Member of a federally-recognized Indian tribe or American Indian Born in Canada
- Resident of American Samoa
You will also be eligible to purchase insurance on the Marketplace if you are an applicant for any of the following benefits:
- Temporary Protected Status with Employment Authorization
- Special Immigrant Juvenile Status
- Victim of Trafficking Visa
- Adjustment to LPR Status
- Withholding of Deportation or Withholding of Removal, under the immigration laws or under the Convention against Torture (CAT)*
*Only those who have been granted employment authorization or are under the age of 14 and have had an application pending for at least 180 days are eligible
Certain immigrants in lawful status may additionally be eligible for Medicaid or Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). This is true if you fall into one of the following categories:
- Lawful Permanent Residents (LPR/Green Card Holder)*
- Cuban/Haitian entrants
- Paroled into the U.S. for at least one year
- Conditional entrant granted before 1980
- Battered non-citizens, spouses, children, or parents
- Victims of trafficking and his or her spouse, child, sibling, or parent or individuals with a pending application for a victim of trafficking visa
- Granted withholding of deportation
- Member of a federally recognized Indian tribe or American Indian born in Canada
*Generally there is a five (5) year waiting period
If you are an undocumented immigrant or do not have lawful status, then you are not eligible to purchase insurance on the Marketplace or for the federal Medicaid program. However, there are other options available.
What are the options for undocumented immigrants?
Private Health Insurance:
If you are undocumented, you are not eligible to purchase coverage on the Marketplace, but you may purchase it directly from an insurance carrier. This is generally more expensive because it is unregulated and does not allow for tax subsidies.
Student Health Plans:
Many colleges and universities offer health insurance for students and do not require proof of legal immigration status to sign up for coverage. These plans are generally more affordable than those purchased on the open market.
In California, all undocumented immigrants who meet the income requirements are eligible for certain Medi-Cal benefits. These include emergency care, pregnancy-related services, and state-funded long-term care. In addition, if you have been granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and are otherwise eligible for Medi-Cal, you can obtain the full range of Medi-Cal benefits.
Community Health Clinics:
Many free or low-cost community health clinics exist all over the country. In general providers do not require lawful immigration status as a prerequisite for treatment.