March 23 marks the third anniversary of the signing of the Affordable Care Act, and there is much to celebrate, but still more to do, especially regarding health care for immigrants.
Because of that law, the past three years have brought big improvements in access to health care. Women have better access to key preventive services and children can no longer be denied insurance because of a pre-existing condition. And -- for the first time -- low-income childless adults will be able to get coverage under Medicaid in a number of states.
But these advances -- however great -- will not reach all communities, and particularly many immigrants who are unfairly excluded from reaping the benefits of the new law.
This pool includes anyone who is not lawfully present in the United States, and even some who are, including youth granted deferred status under a recent Obama administration program.
Undocumented immigrants are completely barred from purchasing health coverage in the new marketplaces, even if they use their own funds. And the Affordable Care Act continues the unfair and archaic restrictions that already force many lawfully present immigrants to wait five years or more to access critical health care programs such as Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program. This delay can have devastating effects on their health and put their financial future at risk.
Restricting access to health care isn't just about fairness; it has severe economic and public health consequences. The uninsured have less access to routine care that can help them stay healthy, and are often treated at later stages with worse health outcomes and higher expenses. The economic impact is huge: The United States loses billions annually from shorter life spans and bad health. And the complex array of rules that immigrants, including native-born children of undocumented parents, are forced to navigate creates a chilling effect -- oftentimes shutting them out of programs they are eligible for.
Health care should be affordable for everyone, regardless of immigration status. That's why the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum has joined hundreds of national and community leaders to urge lawmakers to include a health care component in any immigration reform package.
Most Americans agree. A recently released survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 63 percent of Americans believe that if lawmakers pass new immigration policies that allow immigrants to earn legal status, those individuals should have full access to health coverage and should be allowed to buy insurance through the health insurance marketplaces.
Health care and immigration reform go hand in hand. Our Declaration of Independence states, "All men are created equal," therefore all people deserve equal access to affordable, quality health care.
If Congress passes commonsense immigration reform that includes health coverage for immigrants, a year from now we will have more to celebrate and our nation will be much closer to achieving health equity for everyone.
Kathy Ko Chin is president and chief executive officer of the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum (APIAHF), a national health justice organization that influences policy, mobilizes communities and strengthens programs and organizations to improve the health of Asian-Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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