Public Health

Best Healthcare Options for Undocumented Immigrants

Alexis Bryan
Alexis Bryan23 Aug 2022
Reviewed and Fact Checked ✔️

Undocumented immigrants are a particularly vulnerable group of people who experience limited access to healthcare coverage. While you may not be eligible for employer-sponsored health insurance or government plans, community health centers, private insurance, and membership-based plans are other options for undocumented immigrants.

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Best Healthcare Options for Undocumented Immigrants

High rates of uninsured individuals present a huge barrier to healthcare services for undocumented immigrants. Individuals with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status are barred from enrolling in Medicare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Marketplace plans.

When sick, people without insurance tend to rely on the emergency room or forgo care altogether. This forces people to trade off a large medical bill or sickness that disproportionately affects undocumented immigrants. We detail alternative options below. 

Community Health Centers

Federally funded health centers, known as safety net providers, must treat anyone regardless of citizenship status. In fact, these health centers do not ask for citizenship documentation from anyone. Community and rural health centers charge for services on a sliding scale to accommodate for income levels. 

As of 2020, over 500,000 undocumented immigrants were living in New York City, so a program with NYC Health + Hospitals was established to provide low-cost health services to New York regardless of immigration status. While community centers provide necessary care, these services are usually limited to preventive and primary care services. Very few centers offer specialty services leading to unmet care needs. The Health Resources and Services Administration website can help you find a community health center near you.

Private Health Insurance

Although the cost of premiums and deductibles of private health insurance plans can be very high, undocumented immigrants can purchase unsubsidized insurance plans from private companies. Although, these plans are often unaffordable without health insurance subsidies. Student health programs do cover undocumented immigrants.

Coverage Through a Spouse or Partner

Undocumented immigrants can sometimes obtain health coverage through their partner's plan. Depending on the type of plan, an employer who is offered employer-sponsored health insurance can add coverage for their spouse or dependents, even if they are undocumented. Have your spouse check their health insurance policy to see if this is an option for you.

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Alexis Bryan

Alexis Bryan MPH, is a recent graduate of Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health. She is passionate about increasing access to care to improve health outcomes. Outside of work, she loves to travel, read, and pay too much attention to her plants.

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