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In Illinois, elderly illegal immigrants will receive free medical insurance

Seniors in Illinois will soon receive state-funded health insurance, regardless of their immigration status under the First Arrival Program, writes Chicago Tribune.

Photo: Shutterstock

Ananias Ocampo, 76, learned that he would finally get access to health insurance in December, even though he has no legal immigration status, and was very happy. He even managed to get out of the chair next to the ice cream cart, despite the fact that his knee was shaking and in great pain from arthritis. He could not believe what was happening.

Ocampo is at high risk of contracting the virus due to its advanced age and health conditions, including diabetes. But due to immigration status, Ocampo is not eligible for medical care, social security, or any other federal assistance, despite paying taxes for decades.

In December, Ocampo will become one of hundreds of senior immigrants eligible for Medicaid-like insurance in Illinois for low-income immigrants aged 65 and over, regardless of their immigration status. Initially, 400 to 2000 people are expected to sign up for the program, which was part of the state's budget passed this spring.

Illinois became the first state to fully fund this type of health insurance program for elderly non-citizen immigrants, according to Haley Burgess of the National Center for Immigration Law.

New research shows that the number of older immigrants without legal status in Illinois is expected to grow exponentially over the next 10 years. According to Graciela Guzman, director of the Healthy State of Illinois Campaign, the study suggests expanding healthcare was only a first step. The group has advocated a bill that would guarantee health care to all residents of the state, regardless of income or immigration status, from 2016.

"At least now I can rest assured knowing that if I get sick, I can go to a good doctor who can help me heal without worrying about not having the money to pay for my treatment," Ocampo said on -Spanish.

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Like many older uninsured immigrants, Ocampo cannot afford to be isolated during a pandemic because he has to work to pay rent and food. This is nothing new for Ocampo, who has lived paycheck to paycheck for decades after leaving his family in Mexico. 5 years ago, when he could no longer work in the factory due to illness, he began to do the only job he could do: sell ice cream. He now leans on a cold treat cart to walk.

Since arriving in Chicago 30 years ago from Guerrero, Mexico, Ocampo has worked steadily, he said. But like many older immigrants, he sent most of his money to his parents in Mexico, so he was unable to save money for retirement and is not eligible for social security.

An unpublished study by the Rush University Medical Center shows that in Illinois, the number of elderly immigrants with circumstances similar to Ocampo will grow "substantially" over the next 10 years.

“The age group from 65 to 74 years old should increase 12 times, and there will be 75 times more people without legal immigration status between the ages of 84 and 11 years. This means that in 2030, more than 55 Illinois seniors will not have legal immigration status, ”said program coordinator Padraic Stanley.

The study, which will be published in the coming weeks, shows that many immigrants came to the country between the ages of 20 and 40 in the 1980s, which means that they are now reaching an age that could be retirement.

Ocampo gets basic health care at Stroger through CareLink, a county program that helps provide free or low-cost health care to patients at any Cook County health facility. While this covers many of the costs, it does not cover all preventive care or expensive long-term treatment for Ocampo's knees.

That's why a program like Medicaid, which goes into effect in December, gives him some hope.

“Maybe I can go to another doctor to find out if I need surgery, or get treatment earlier that could help,” Ocampo said.

Jung Hye Chang, 65, a South Korean immigrant, said through an interpreter that becoming eligible for the program reduced her anxiety and fear of seeking medical help. Since arriving in the US in 1996, she knows that hospital treatment or doctor visits are expensive, so she relied on home remedies and over-the-counter medications. To find a doctor, Chang often relies on community organizations to provide medical care to those living in the country without permission.

Rep. Delia Ramirez said the program was backed by the Illinois Hispanic Legislature in response to data showing that uninsured seniors infected with COVID-19 are at risk and costly to treat. The state will pay medical bills.

Evan Fazio, a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Health and Family Services, says the expansion will cost the state $ 5 million. But this is a small amount compared to the tax deduction of the covered group. A 2017 study found that Illinois residents without legal immigration status contribute over $ 758 million a year in state and local taxes.

Since the program is government-funded, it is not subject to the so-called “social burden” rule, which allows federal authorities considering applications for legalized immigration status to take into account the fact that they are receiving benefits and benefits. Enrollment for the program will begin in December, with the option to apply for retroactive coverage that will cover the last year's medical bills. Those who are eligible can apply through the website and call centers.

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While Ocampo hopes that he will now have access to better medical care, he fears that it is too late.

“I am worried that I will no longer be able to walk, I will not be able to work. And if I don't work, how will I make money to pay my rent? Where will I live?" Ocampo said.

Carmen Velazquez, founder and former executive director of Alivio Medical Center, which serves uninsured people in the Chicago area, said thousands of older adults who did not have access to preventive care in their youth are now suffering the consequences.

Velasquez said state leaders made the right decision by expanding health coverage, but that's not enough.

“This is the first step, but we need to get back to working hard on how we can reach more people soon,” she said.

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