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Immigrant rights advocates say fear still a factor in overcoming hesitancy to access healthcare


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Since July, the state expanded Medicaid to qualifying low-income undocumented immigrants aged 42 and up.

But even with the recent expansion, health care advocates say people may be hesitant about applying.

Luvia Quiñones, the senior health policy director for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.

“Don’t be afraid to look for what you qualify for," she said. "There are many occasions where someone can be eligible for something and that can be the health insurance or some kind of service.” Quinones was featured in a previous WNIJ story on the state’s Medicaid expansion.

She said some of the apprehension stems from changes in the more than 100-year-old rule regarding public chargemade during the Trump administration. This rule refers to public benefits that if an immigrant receives, could count against them in their application for permanent residency.

News surrounding the rule change, which happened during the pandemic, spurred a lot of misinformation. She said it kept some people from getting COVID-19 tests, vaccines and getting treatment when they needed it.

The Biden administration proposed reverting to the old rule earlier this year. In the meantime, the 2019 public charge rule is no longer in effect. But the confusion continues.

Immigrant right advocates like Quinones combat the hesitancy with information and a clear message—healthcare is a human right.

“This message is really important because many people in our immigrant community believe that they don’t have the right to healthcare because of their immigration status, when in reality, your immigration status doesn’t matter,” she said. “We all have a right to healthcare.”

She stressed that immigrants won’t be penalized for using medical services or enrolling in health coverage.

Medicaid Expansion

Quiñones recommends folks reach out to community organizations or their local health departments for information on what healthcare coverage is available to them.

At the DeKalb County Public Health Department, Rocio Marungo, helps all Illinois residents navigate the different healthcare options.

“To verify that you qualify and be certain that you are providing the correct information to the state, it’s important you speak with someone that can submit that application correctly,” Marungo said. “They can get the application here at the county office, they can speak with me.”

Hospital visit

When being treated at a hospital, folks have a right to apply for financial aid or charity care at non-profit hospitals, regardless of their status.

“So, if you live in the state, and apply for financial aid, it will not affect your immigration status” Quinones said.

Community health clinics

At community health clinics residents can receive preventative care and will be charged on a sliding scale.

“It’s really important to visit a doctor for at least a physical exam every year so that doctor’s office has your medical record and medical history,” Marungo said.

Language access

Another barrier to getting healthcare can be language. Under the Civil Rights Act, health services that receive federal funding must make material and services accessible in other languages.

“The interpreter may be available through video, over the phone, or in person,” Quiñones said. “So, a person can request an interpreter at the hospital or clinic so that person can feel most comfortable. So, it should never be a barrier, because they have to provide you with an interpreter.”

Support for finding healthcare

ICIRR helps immigrants and refugees find health coverage.

The coalition can be reached at 855-435-7693. You’ll be prompted to select your language, then choose healthcare. Leave a message with your name, telephone number, the city you reside in, and the care you are looking for. Quiñones said you ought to receive a call back within 24 to 48 hours.

At the DeKalb County Health Department, you can call 815-758-6673 and ask for Rocio Marungo.

For a map of clinics, provided by ICIRR, click here.

Here is a list of free clinics from the Illinois Association of Free and Charitable Clinics.

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A Chicago native, Maria earned a Master's Degree in Public Affairs Reporting from the University of Illinois Springfield . Maria is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America. RFA is a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities. It is an initiative of The GroundTruth Project, a nonprofit journalism organization. Un residente nativo de Chicago, Maria se graduó de University of Illinois Springfield con una licenciatura superior en periodismo de gobierno.