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More states offer health care coverage for certain migrants, noncitizens

Gabriel Henao, who escaped a threatening guerrilla group in Colombia, arrived in Colorado in 2022. He faced severe stomach pain but couldn’t afford health insurance on his income as a house cleaner. Fortunately, he recently gained access to healthcare through Colorado’s OmniSalud program, designed for low-income immigrants without documentation.

OmniSalud, launched in 2022 and expanded in 2023, covers 11,000 people with zero premiums. Advocates argue that such programs, seen in Democratic-dominated states like Colorado, save money by preventing costly medical crises and reducing premiums.

Colorado’s program aids immigrants with an income below $22,000 for an individual or $45,000 for a family of four. However, critics question the expense amid budget challenges.

Similar initiatives are emerging in Democratic-led states like California, Oregon, and Washington. The pandemic heightened awareness of health disparities, prompting states to offer coverage to more people, irrespective of immigration status.

California, for instance, phased in healthcare coverage for immigrants, starting with the Young Adult Expansion program in 2020. Critics argue against the cost, especially in challenging economic times.

States like Michigan are eliminating waiting periods for Medicaid, providing coverage for children and pregnant women. California recently extended Medicaid coverage to adults aged 26 to 49 regardless of immigration status.

While some states, like Nevada, face opposition due to budget concerns, Utah initiated a state-funded children’s health insurance program for immigrant children.

Critics claim immigrants without legal status burden the system, but research suggests they contribute significantly through payroll and sales taxes. States like Washington now allow immigrants without documentation and DACA recipients to shop for health plans through the state’s exchange marketplace.

Budget constraints have led some states, like Illinois, to pause enrollments in health coverage programs for noncitizens. Colorado’s OmniSalud, covering only a fraction of the immigrant population, highlights the need for further expansion.

Henao, now covered by OmniSalud after an appendectomy, emphasizes the positive impact of healthcare access for arriving immigrants. The ongoing debate revolves around the economic benefits of preventive care and its long-term effects on families and communities.

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