Immigrant Women May Wait Up to 15 Years for Health Care

It’s a real pain when you call the doctor’s office and can’t be seen for ten days. Now imagine being told that the wait will be ten years. That’s what immigrants in the United States are facing, particularly immigrant women, as immigration and health care reform laws leave them behind and create a potentially lethal gap between coverage and the people who need it. Organizations like the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health are coming out swinging, arguing that no one should have to wait ten years — or even 15, in some cases — for health care.

Here’s how the current framework of immigration reform would work, as proposed under the bill in Congress: the path to citizenship starts with 10 years of “Registered Provisional Immigrant” status. During that time, immigrants pay taxes, pay fines and otherwise contribute into governmental systems in the United States. One thing they can’t do? Qualify for means-tested healthcare benefits such as Medicare, or receive assistance in the form of tax credits and subsidies to help them access health insurance exchanges.

Once this probationary period is up, immigrants may apply for citizenship and have up to five years to apply for Medicare if they need it. It could potentially take up to 15 years to complete application and enrollment in these programs to access health care in the United States, and this is a very, very long time to wait. Obviously any acute conditions are going to reach the critical point long before patients can see a doctor, and issues like slow-growing tumors and chronic health conditions will have plenty of time to flourish while low-income patients struggle to pull together the money to see a doctor, or wait for benefits eligibility.

While the goal for all immigrants is economic success and wellbeing, such that they could access benefits through employment or be able to buy into health insurance plans, this unfortunately isn’t the case. Immigrants in the United States often work in low-wage jobs for employers who do not offer benefits of any kind, making the social safety net critical for them. Women and children in particular across the United States, regardless of immigration status, are more likely to live in poverty, and that problem is intensified for immigrants.

Lack of access to health care can have serious consequences for patients, exacerbating disabilities and sometimes leading to fatal complications. It’s also bad for the economy, because unhealthy people can’t work as efficiently, and they run the risk of passing on illnesses to others, as well. That’s a bad combination, and one that could be easily addressed by ensuring that all people can access means-tested benefits to ensure that the poorest residents of the country can get the health services they need. After all, immigrants are paying into the system, but they’re not taking anything out of it; effectively, they’re subsidizing low-income U.S. citizens for no return on their investment.

In addition to being an economic and social problem, this is a human rights issue. U.S. hospitals pledge to provide emergency care (including labor and delivery care) to anyone regardless of immigration status and health insurance coverage, but the need for health care doesn’t stop there. Preventative care including management of ongoing chronic health conditions is an important part of a holistic health care system, and it’s an aspect of the current system that’s notably lacking.

For immigrant women, 15 years is too long to wait. The society, communities and families all win when people get the health care they need, when they need it.


Photo credit: Seattle Municipal Archives.


J C Bro
J C Brou4 years ago

thanks for this article

B Jackson
BJ J4 years ago

Maybe "legal" vs "illegal" has something to do with getting or not getting care.

Amandine S.
Past Member 4 years ago

Thanks for posting.

GGma Sheila D.
GGmaSheila D4 years ago

This article is very misleading - evidently it speaks of those illegal immigrants because legal immigrants can get healthcare if they follow the rules and pay, like everyone else here.

They do get emegency help, and can go to any of the free clinics for preventative healthcare if they don't have money to pay. They can usually see any doctor at any clinic and payment arrangements can be made. There shouldn't be the free ride many are getting today. That's pragmatic, not inhumane, as there is healthcare for them, but many choose to apply for welfare and SSI or SSA and get upset when they don't get it. They expect a free ride and cry foul when they don't get it.

In Small Town MN we have many Somali immigrants and almost all of them have applied for MA, SNAP, HRA and get upset when they don't qualify. I've heard stories of them getting upset because they have to go to the end of the list when applying - they believe they deserve to get ahead of everyone else - some waiting for several hrs.

If someone, American or immigrant, doesn't pay into SSA then they should not qualify to get Medicare and/or Medicaid. Those funds are for workers who have usually spent years accruing benefits, not newly come to our country.

Agnes H.
Agnes H4 years ago

Am I SO SO glad I don't live in America! I know it's bad here in Australia with the Refugee Status. But I do know that as soon as you are accepted into the Australian Population, or a normal Immigrant, the first thing you have to do is: Sign up for Medicare!
If you need Dr's help, and you don't mind who you see, you can be seen within a day! With hospitals it's different for everyone! If you have Private Health Insurance, you can be seen immediately, also for surgeries. But, if you are like us, and can't afford it then you go on a waiting list. Then it depends on the surgeon. Take Les, he has to have a cataract removed, but has to wait till next May or June, to have it done!
However, if it gets that far that he can't drive anymore, we only have to ask for our GP's letter, as he's the only one who drives, and it'll be put forward.
Also, depending on your Dr. you can get Bulk-Billed, which means that you don't have to pay a cent, otherwise you pay your Dr, and Medicare will return a certain amount of money back into your Bank Account. That amount depends on the Dr or Specialist you see!
I think the system in America sucks, but also the system here with Refugees! I've never agreed with Labour's system, but certainly not with what they have done now!
They should set up posts in Indonesia, where the Refugees can go and be screened, like every normal Refugee, and then be allowed into the country! Go about it the right way and it will have more success than giving the same, or

june t.
reft h4 years ago

thanks for the article

Marie W.
Marie W4 years ago

Try legal=immigrant vs. illegal =alien.

Catherine H.
Cate R4 years ago


Catherine H.
Cate R4 years ago

I am very glad Rob B. that I do live in a country where healthcare is a right. We also have many illegal immigrants in this country with the majority coming from China, the UK, Canada and the US. Asylum seekers are a whole different ball game and are not illegal immigrants but regardless all people saying in Australia legally or illegally will receive basic healthcare and I have no problem with my taxes going towards that. I have also never waited ten days to get into see a doctor and doubt I ever will.

Lynn C.
Lynn C4 years ago

Signed - you bet!!!