Healthcare advocates call on Gov. Pritzker to end suspension of program for poor undocumented residents
Since the first of July, the state’s health insurance program for poor adults regardless of immigration status has been suspended. Immigrant and healthcare advocates continue to deal with the fallout.
Irma Barrientos is a program manager at Mano a Mano, a nonprofit organization serving immigrant families in Lake and McHenry Counties.
She said the announcement of changes to the program caught her off guard. It came with just two weeks' notice.
Changes include the suspension of enrollment to Healthcare Benefits for Immigrant Adults (HBIA) for adults 42 to 64 years old, and an enrollment cap of 16,500 for Healthcare Benefits for Immigrant Seniors (HBIS) that covers seniors 65 and above. Those already enrolled get to keep their insurance but will now face a $100 copay for an emergency room visit and be required to pay 10% of costs for outpatient services.
Barrientos jumped on their scheduled Facebook Live program to get the word out to the folks they serve as quickly as possible about the changes to the health care programs.
And the organization hosted two open-house days in which staff were available to help anyone on the spot apply for healthcare benefits. Barrientos said they were able to assist 50 people with their applications.
“It was super last minute,” she said, “If we wish we had more time, but that wasn't the case.”
Since then, some have informed her that they’ve been accepted, as other share they’ve been denied because they make too much money to qualify.
She said the state’s healthcare program for poor undocumented residents is life-saving.
“I've had individuals who've had surgery, who can afford their insulin, because of the HPIA and HBIS,” she said.
The program was launched in 2020 initially for seniors 65 and older. In 2022, HBIA was formed first for immigrant adults 55 and up, and later that year it was expanded to adults 42 and up.
The Pritzker Administration said the reason for the changes is that program costs grew higher than expected.
Additionally, they argue that it’s difficult to estimate the undocumented population in the state and the pool within that community that would be eligible to enroll.
Maggie Rivera, the executive director of the Illinois Migrant Council, questions how better estimates of the costs of the program weren’t available.
She's a member of Healthy Illinois, a coalition advocating for healthcare for all regardless of immigration status.
“Wouldn't this be something that you would have already analyzed when you decided to open this new service?,” Rivera said.
She was among other Hispanic leaders who took part in a Latino Lobby Day in Springfield in May that included panels and presentations, including from Gov. Pritzker.
She said during the day’s session there was no indication from the Pritzker Administration that the health insurance programs were under threat. Instead, she said there was a lot of buzz about an expansion of the program to younger adults.
“Yes, we're gonna open it up to 18 year olds,” she said.
“That creates a lot of enthusiasm,” she said. “And then again, a lot of false hope, but not on the advocacy groups part.”
WNIJ reached out to the Governor’s Office for comment but did not receive a response.
Another member of the coalition that attended the lobby day was Alejandra Ibañez, the executive Director of Illinois Unidos. She said Pritzker spoke highly of the programs, which he gave himself credit for making possible.
“And so, we were completely stunned, completely stunned that he came out to end enrollment of this program,” she said.
She said Healthy Illinois requested a meeting with the governor for several months prior to the suspension but to no avail.
“If the governor would have maintained the open communication that we've had over the last couple of years, we wouldn't be in this situation,” Ibañez said.
Healthy Illinois hosted rallies and press conferences calling on the governor to re-open the program.
“It doesn't have to be such an antagonistic relationship,” she said. “And we want an open, transparent relationship. But we also know that immigrants in Illinois contribute significantly to the economy.”
An analysis from the American Immigration Council, a nonpartisan group, found that immigrant-led households paid $7.7 billion in state and local taxes in 2018.
“Immigrants already pay for it, you know, they pay into the program time and time again,” she said.
Illinois Unidos was formed during the pandemic as Latinos were dying at higher rates than other groups.
She said Latino workers were the first to return to work during the pandemic even when it put their lives at risk.
She said the governor has spoken about the significant contributions immigrant labor makes to the state and feels his decision rolls back progress a couple years.
“It's a slap in the face,” she said. “’We recognize your labor, but we're not going to protect you with health insurance’ -= that's the part that, you know, it's just so devastating.”
In the latest press conference, speakers urged the governor to reopen the program, and they shared the same refrain —Healthcare is a human right.