The immigrant community calls for health coverage for all

Community-led groups have come together to highlight the need for health care for black immigrants and call on the state to enact coverage for all. The rally took place in front of the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. building in Harlem on Friday, February 4.

Activists from the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC) and the African Services Committee (ASC) have loudly chanted for forgotten immigrant essential workers who remain uninsured and suffer without adequate access to health care.

Gbenga Awonusi, program manager for DSI International, said many were resorting to self-medication during the pandemic because they were afraid to go to hospitals. He said they had a palpable fear of being deported since they had no papers, despite showing symptoms or assurances that their status would not matter for care. “One of them has chest pains but was afraid to go to hospital until he almost died and was rushed to hospital by a good Samaritan,” Awonusi said.

Amanda Lugg, Acting Co-Executive Director of ASC, said now is the time to expand health care coverage to more than 150,000 currently ineligible immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers, including due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Lugg said it’s about choice and giving communities the ability to purchase appropriate insurance.

“We are here today to demand that Governor Hochul include in her budget an essential state-funded plan for all New Yorkers up to 200% of the federal poverty level, who are currently excluded from underwriting insurance because of their immigration status,” says Lugg. “We are not asking for free health care.”

In 2019, former mayor Bill de Blasio launched a plan to cover 600,000 uninsured people, including undocumented immigrants, through the city’s public health insurance option, MetroPlus and NYC Health + Hospitals. Currently in New York City, health care options such as Child Health Plus, Medicaid, and family planning programs are available to eligible individuals regardless of immigration or deferred action status. child arrivals (DACA).

Coverage for All is legislation that would create a publicly funded health coverage option for uninsured New Yorkers, regardless of immigration status.

“You have heard and seen that during the pandemic our immigrant communities, especially our black and Latinx communities, have died at higher rates than our white counterparts. Partly because of gaps in health insurance coverage,” said Seongeun Chun, director of health policy at NYIC. “This is a preventable tragedy, and one that underscores the racial inequities that continue to plague our healthcare system today.”

Both versions of the bill, A880A and S1572A, left the health committees of each legislative chamber. The Assembly bill will move to the Ways and Means Committee, while the Senate version will head to Finance. NYIC estimates the cost of the bill at around $345 million to cover tens of thousands of uninsured New Yorkers.

“Governor Hochul is committed to supporting New York’s immigrant communities and will review legislation if it passes through both houses,” said Avi Small, spokesperson for the governor’s office.

Ariama C. Long is a member of the Report for America corps and writes about New York culture and politics for The Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps him keep writing stories like this; please consider making a tax deductible donation of any amount today by visiting:

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