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Provider says farmworkers benefit too from IL health insurance for poor immigrants

Elena Galarza, outreach coordinator at Community Health Partnership of Illinois at Harvard, sets up clinic stations at a farm garage in Harvard, IL.
Maria Gardner Lara
Elena Galarza, outreach coordinator at Community Health Partnership of Illinois at Harvard, sets up clinic stations at a farm garage in Harvard, IL.

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The pause on new enrollments for the state’s health insurance program for low-income immigrant adults affected workers, especially those considered part of an essential workforce.

Among them are farmworkers. WNIJ previously reported that an estimated 50 to 60% of farmworkers are undocumented and about 10 to 15% have temporary H2A visas. “

Elena Galarza, an outreach coordinator at the Community Health Partnership of Illinois clinic in Harvard, said farmworkers continue to reach out to her inquiring about the program.

Galarza arranges for the clinic’s medical staff to visit workers on farms and ranches in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin as part of the federal migrant health program.

Before that, she helped folks apply for the state’s health insurance program for low-income immigrant adults and seniors.

She said farmworkers, including those with work visas, benefited from the insurance offered by the state.

“You can only imagine how many people come up to me to tell me ‘Thank you because I ‘ve been approved,’” she said, "I've already been able to see a doctor, I’ve been able to make an appointment."

The Health Benefits for Immigrant Seniors launched in 2020 for people over the age of 64. Last year, it was expanded twice to include adults 42 and older.

This June, the Pritzker Administration capped the senior program and suspended enrollment for those under the age of 65. Those who are already enrolled can keep their insurance.

A spokesperson for the Governor’s office says estimates show the program’s costs ballooning from what the administration originally proposed.

At a public hearing this week on the changes to the program, several speakers requested the Pritzker Administration create a working group that would be tasked to find ways to make the program fiscally sound.

Some healthcare advocates have expressed shock and anger at the changes, saying the program is “lifesaving” for thousands of undocumented immigrants.

Galarza said for many H-2A visa holders, they had to overcome their own fears to apply for the program.

This type of visa covers agricultural workers who do seasonal work.

She said they were concerned that enrolling in a government-based health benefits program would be considered a public charge and hurt their chances of having their visas renewed.

“It shouldn’t be considered a public charge, I’d love to say that ‘’no, but it also depends on the official determining whether to approve your visa renewal . . . it’s complicated,” Galarza said.

A public charge refers to certain government assistance programs that someone seeking permanent, or U.S. Citizenship may be penalized for participating in. Government-funded health or food programs do not count as public charge.

She recalled one patient who after a medical emergency visit and mounting debt, decided to take the risk and apply.

He needed ongoing care and not just one-time coverage for the emergency room visit,” Galarza said. “And fortunately, he was approved. And he took that risk.”

And despite the fears some held, it was a very popular program.

She said the clinic completed about two to three applications for Medicaid a week prior to the initiatives.

When the state rolled out the healthcare program for immigrants the numbers of applications being processed rose to about18 to 20 applicants a week.

“There were a lot of people who were approved, just as there were many people who were denied, for a number of reasons," she said.

She said the main factor for the denial was for making too much money to meet the income requirement.

Galarza said having health insurance allows workers to receive care that can’t be performed at the clinic.

She said there's been cases of farm workers diagnosed with hernias caused by lifting heavy items on the job.

“So, what happens (to those folks)?” she asked. "Those individuals need surgery. Here in the clinic, we don’t provide surgery.”

Galarza said the clinic doesn't have the equipment to perform x-rays, or CT scans. That means, for now, undocumented and H2A visa holders without health insurance may go without further care and rely on emergency services when their health conditions worsen.

For information on where to find a federally qualified clinic such as Community Health Partnership of Illinois in Harvard, click here.

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.
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