Enhance Health

Healthcare Options For Undocumented Immigrants 

If you or a loved one is an undocumented immigrant, you’ve likely faced great challenges when trying to access healthcare. As one of the millions of foreign-born non-citizens on US soil, you don’t have the wide variety of subsidized healthcare opportunities that citizens enjoy. 

This can be very frustrating, especially when you have a family and you’re concerned about their health and well-being. But there is hope. 

Although many non-citizens believe that healthcare just isn’t available to them, this is not accurate. There are still some healthcare options for you and your families, and we’ll examine each of these, in this article.

5 Healthcare Options Available For Undocumented Immigrants

These are the top 5 healthcare options open to all people in the US, regardless of citizenship status. 

Private Health Insurance

Unsubsidized private health insurance plans are always an option but their premiums and deductibles can be quite high. However, there is a very wide range of health plans on the market. 

You may be able to find one with less coverage that works for you if you:

  • don’t anticipate needing frequent medical care
  • are fit and healthy
  • and have no chronic medical conditions

An undocumented immigrant who is married to a legal resident that has private health insurance or an employer-sponsored health plan may have coverage through that plan as a dependent. You’ll have to check with the insurance provider (or employer) to learn if this is the case.

Community Health Centers

Community health centers, although federally funded, are obligated to treat everyone that needs medical services, whether they are US citizens or not. However, these services are not free. 

Community centers generally offer primary and preventive care. Most will also offer ante-natal care and reproductive health services or STD testing and treatment. More serious medical conditions and emergencies are not catered for, and you’d be best off going to your nearest emergency hospital unit.

You’ll be charged according to what you can afford, and they have a sliding scale that determines fees based on income.

Medicaid Services 

Although undocumented immigrants are barred from registering for Medicaid Services throughout the US, they found relief in Medi-Cal In California. The state of California decided to allow undocumented immigrants between the ages of 19 and 25 to enroll in California’s Medicaid services, and then those over the age of 50 as well.

Thanks to this development ante-natal care, emergency medical treatment, and even long-term care are accessible. Although other states don’t allow this at present, there are a few states besides California, that allow Medicaid coverage for the children of undocumented immigrants. 

These other states are Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, and Washington. The district of Washington D.C. also allows this. You will still be subject to the affordability criteria set out by the rule of Medicaid.

Medical Cost-Sharing Programs & Care Memberships

While medical cost-sharing programs like Medi Share are for US citizens only, some communities may have their versions of this that are open to all. 

Medical cost-sharing programs set their own eligibility rules and include monthly premiums much like ordinary health plans do. However, they are not insurance plans, but rather a means to pool resources and share medical costs among a group. 

Care memberships, on the other hand, allow access to certain pre-approved medical services and practitioners, for a monthly fee. Once again, these are private, unsubsidized programs with their own rules and regulations. It’s worth investigating if any allow membership for non-US citizens.

Emergency Medical Treatment & Labor Act (EMTALA)

Emergency healthcare services are available to all, including undocumented immigrants, through the Emergency Medical Treatment And Labor Act. This states that Medicaid-participating hospitals must treat patients even if they don’t have health insurance.

Unfortunately, because this is the last resort for many undocumented individuals, you may face long queues and waiting times. However, it’s a safe way to get medical treatment despite your undocumented status.

Are There Any Instances Where Undocumented Individuals Can Access Subsidized Healthcare?

How can undocumented immigrants get health insurance? 

You need to be a U.S. citizen or be ‘lawfully present’ in the United States to qualify for subsidized health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. That means that there are a few loopholes for non-citizens.

To be considered lawfully present in the United States, even f not considered a citizen, you’ll need to be in one of the following categories:

  • In the process of applying for citizenship
  • Refugee status
  • Valid Visa for non-immigrants
  • Any legal residency status recognized by the government – such as a Green Card
  • First Nation Status – born into an officially  recognized Native American tribe

There are a few other instances where your presence in the US, despite a lack of citizenship, may entitle you to federal or state-subsidized medical care and health insurance. 

If you are at all unsure, your consulate or embassy will be able to assist you without fear of retribution or legal repercussions.

Health Coverage Challenges For Undocumented Immigrants

What are the main challenges facing non-citizens seeking health coverage? And why is health insurance for undocumented people a challenge at all? There are four main factors to consider:

The Politics Surrounding The Immigration Issue

Low-cost health insurance for undocumented immigrants is a hot topic. As low-cost health insurance is subsidized largely by the taxpayer’s contributions, anyone who suggests it is usually met with controversy. 

The reason for this is that the issue often gets tied to the discussion around illegal immigration. Providing health insurance for undocumented individuals is seen as encouraging the trend of illegal immigration. 

Certain towns and cities have a greater problem with anti-immigrant sentiments than others, but it’s a widespread problem. Unfortunately, this causes apprehension in the undocumented immigrant population. As a result, many are afraid to seek medical care.

Ineligibility For Government-Subsidized Health Plans

US citizens are expected to enroll in health insurance, and even those who can’t afford it can enroll in subsidized plans under the Affordable Care Act. Medicaid and Obamacare are examples of this. 

However, this option is not open to undocumented immigrants. These programs have criteria that must be met, and one of these is that applicants must be US citizens. Although these regulations are being relaxed on certain levels in certain states, subsidized health care is still largely inaccessible. 

Lost In Translation

Another challenge that undocumented immigrants face is the language barrier. English is the language used in virtually every government office, at medical facilities, and on insurance forms. Applying for health insurance, even when allowed, can become lost in translation because of this language barrier.

Spanish is widely spoken in certain communities of the US, and this is helpful to Spanish-speaking immigrants. But non-citizens who speak other languages face major obstacles to obtaining healthcare. Just trying to explain their ailment to a medical professional can be extremely difficult. 

Employment Exploitation

Employer-sponsored health plans provide health insurance coverage to millions of US citizens, too. But while this is still sometimes an option for non-US citizens, the majority of undocumented immigrants are employed in low-income jobs, particularly manual labor. 

Sadly, many undocumented people in the US are exploited in this way, and they feel powerless to spark up about it. As illegal immigrants, the constant fear of deportation or worse keeps them in jobs that don’t always offer livable wages. 

This means that they don’t have access to employer-subsidized health insurance either, and even if they do, they can’t afford their contributions.  And while low-income households are catered for by the Affordable Care Act, it doesn’t extend this safety net to undocumented immigrants.

Frequently Asked Questions About Undocumented Immigrants & Healthcare 

Do undocumented immigrants pay more for health care than citizens?

Yes, in general, they do as they are not eligible for most subsidized health insurance plans. However, there is no difference between what US citizens without health insurance and uninsured non-citizens will pay for health care.

If you walk into a community clinic, you’ll pay the same as a citizen would but may be assessed for affordability on a sliding income scale. Private health insurance costs are the same regardless of citizenship status.

Why are undocumented immigrants generally not eligible for state-subsidized health insurance? 

The Affordable Care Act, which is the system that provides subsidized health insurance to millions of Americans, is available to US citizens only. This is because it is funded by government funds and that includes US taxpayers’ money. 

However, some states are making exceptions for children. And California has paved the way for certain undocumented individuals to obtain subsidized health insurance. In time, other states may follow their example. 


As an undocumented immigrant, you’ve overcome obstacles to make it to the US. Unfortunately, your life may not have gotten easier. Aside from anti-immigrant sentiment and exploitation by unscrupulous employees, subsidized health insurance is not available to you. 

This doesn’t mean that all doors are closed to you. You may unknowingly fall into a category that the US recognizes as lawfully present. Or, you may find employment that allows you to afford private health insurance.

To better understand your options, contact us today.

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