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New bill would increase access to healthcare for immigrants

by Akemi Tamanaha, Associate Editor

The HEAL for immigrant Families Act, a piece of legislation that would improve immigrant access to healthcare, was recently re-introduced to Congress.

Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), and Nanette Barragan (D-CA), along with Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) reintroduced the bill on July 27. The original legislation was drafted in 2014 but has endured many setbacks and alterations.

According to the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF), a member of the HEAL coalition, the goal of the bill is to eliminate barriers for immigrant families trying to access affordable healthcare.

The legislation would specifically remove the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) five-year waiting period, which requires immigrants to wait five years after receiving their “qualified” immigration status to enroll in Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). But they will still pay taxes to help fund those programs during that waiting period.

“Without passing the HEAL act, really immigrant families and especially immigrant women are prohibited from accessing these public public programs that they’re already supporting and paying into,” Kristina Doan, NAPAWF’s Chief Field Officer, said in an interview with AsAmNews.

The HEAL Act also improve access by removing restrictions in the ACA that prevent undocumented immigrants from accessing marketplace coverage.

“Regardless of immigration status, everyone deserves comprehensive, quality health insurance and health coverage in order to make the best decisions for our families and people’s lives,” Doan said.

A report from the Center for Migration Studies in 2022 found that AAPI immigrants account for 17 percent of the undocumented immigrant population in the United States. If the HEAL act passes, 1,734,600 undocumented AAPI immigrants could purchase coverage through the ACA marketplace.

Undocumented immigrants protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) would qualify for public health insurance options under the HEAL Act. According to DOAN, about 169,000 AAPI individuals qualify for DACA.

Advocates believe Asian Americans would benefit from immensely from the passage of the HEAL Act.

“And so I think the direct impact for Asian immigrant communities is that being able to have this access to coverage, but also, you know, eliminate the costs of going to hospitals, missing work because of being sick or, or just not having the resources that they need to to be healthy and go to school and work,” Doan said.

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