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Undocumented parents of U.S.-born children wary of receiving ‘Obamacare’

Anthony Advincula | 10/4/2013, 6 a.m.

R. Ng and his wife, both from the Philippines, have overstayed their visas since 2003. They have a 9-year-old son who is a U.S.-born citizen.

As the nation prepares for the new health-care system under the Affordable Care Act, the Ngs have found themselves in an immigration and health-care bind: how do they enroll their child in a health-care exchange without disclosing their immigration status?

“That would not be an easy thing to do,” said Ng, who is ethnic Chinese. “That’s scary, actually.”

It’s a dilemma faced by thousands of mixed-immigration-status families like the Ngs around the country. Afraid of coming into contact with a government agency, many immigrant families are wary that mandatory ACA enrollment for documented members of the household may put those who are here illegally in harm’s way.

“It’s a no-brainer, because we’re going to enroll our child but not ourselves,” Ng added. “It’s almost an admission to the government that our child has undocumented parents.”

The ACA does not extend to undocumented immigrants.

Under the law, individual states will offer health-care exchanges that serve as an online marketplace for individuals — including those who have never had insurance, as is the case with many immigrants — to purchase an affordable health plan. Those individuals who are currently uninsured are required to apply for coverage through the exchanges or face a penalty.

Still, many undocumented parents of U.S.-born children remain reluctant to seek health care and public assistance. U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants are in fact twice as likely as children born to citizens to lack insurance, according to a 2012 study by the Hastings Center.

Another study by the Pew Research Center Hispanic Trends project noted there are now about 11.7 million undocumented immigrants in the United States and, after the number bottomed out due to the Great Recession, that figure may be rising again.

Health-reform advocates are concerned that fear and mistrust of government among undocumented parents may deter families like the Ngs from enrolling their U.S.-born children in a qualified health plan. Open enrollment in health exchanges starts Oct. 1.

“This is the biggest challenge that we see in the enrollment process,” Noilyn Abesamis-Mendoza, health policy director with the Coalition for Asian American Children and Families, said at a press briefing earlier this month with ethnic media in Manhattan. “There have definitely been some fears going around.”

Emergency room visit

Ng, who works in a retail store in Queens, says he feels fortunate that his family has remained relatively healthy, though the thought that one of them might fall ill frightens him. “I pray every day that won’t happen,” he says.

When one of them does get sick, Ng says the family typically self-medicates. But in 2009, during the H1N1 scare, Ng’s son developed a high fever, prompting a trip to the emergency room. “It [the fever] was very high,” Ng recalled, “and I didn’t want to wait until it was too late.”

Since 2009, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has enforced executive ordinances — EO 34 and 41 — that ensure all New Yorkers, regardless of immigration status, have access to city services, including health clinics and city hospitals.