AIDS Issues Update Blog

Dispatches from the fight against homelessness and AIDS


Posted by Tim Murphy , September 04, 2013


Panelists (left to right) Brown, Rothstein, Attiah, Pierre. Paula Medina, health advocacy coordinator, NYIC, is at the podium.

Enrollment in Obamacare begins October 1, meaning that most uninsured New Yorkers will now have access to affordable health care. (Read the quick guide we published two weeks ago.) However, what does Obamacare mean for immigrants, especially those who are undocumented and, per the new law, barred from taking part in it?

Wednesday afternoon, the New York Immigration Coalition held an open panel at its West 25th Street offices to discuss how New York State’s Health Benefit Exchange, through which all the new Obamacare plans will be offered, will work—and how to maximize immigrant inclusion in health reform.

Speakers at the panel were Sara Rothstein, director of policy and planning, New York Health Benefit Exchange; LaRay Brown, senior vice president, corporate planning, community health and intergovernmental relations, New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation; Maha Attiah, Arab American Family Support Center, a member of NYIC’s Health Collaborative that is a funded Navigator for the Exchange; Errol Pierre, assistant vice president of product management, Healthfirst NY; and Jackie Vimo, director of advocacy, New York Immigration Coalition.

According to Vimo, about 75 people, mostly community-based organization staffers, attended the panel. Key points raised were:

>New York State’s website for the new exchange is currently available only in English, even though an executive order in New York State requires that “vital documents” be translated into the state’s top-spoken languages (including, of course, Spanish). Rothstein, speaking for NY state, said that a multilingual phone line will be available for the exchange, but no line seems to have yet been posted prominently on the website.

>NY State needs a widespread PR and outreach campaign, including door-knocking, to let New Yorkers—especially immigrants—know about the new plans. But no state money has thus far been allocated for that.

>The name of the NY State exchange website is “New York State of Health,” but advocates fear that won’t translate clearly for immigrant populations.

>Advocates want the website to make clear that undocumented immigrants have healthcare options (including emergency Medicaid, CHIP for children under 18, care for pregnant women, community health centers and HHC hospitals) even though Obamacare bars them from the new health plans. The website thus far doesn’t include this information. Advocates also want the website to make clear that undocumented parents are still able to sign up their documented children for health care.

>Advocates hope that all parties invested in healthcare for undocumented immigrants will urge their reps in D.C. to keep up funding for so-called Disproportionate Share Hospitals, which provide emergency health care to undocumented immigrants. That funding has already been slashed under the assumption that Obamacare will make it less necessary.

“Massachusetts has had a health exchange since 2006,” said Vimo. “From that state, we’ve learned that immigrants are among those most likely to be uninsured. Obamacare enrollment starting October 1 could be a missed opportunity if we don’t put out adequate information about it.”

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