Thousands of DACA Recipients Struggle With Access to Health Insurance

More than 150,000 young immigrants without legal status in America do not have health insurance coverage. Here’s why DACA recipients disproportionately struggle with access to affordable medical care.
Arms raised in protest

Nearly 157,000 young immigrants in the U.S. are estimated to be uninsured, according to a recent study published by the National Immigration Law Center (NILC).

The NILC found that 27% of immigrants protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program do not have access to medical coverage through family members or employers — a rate nearly triple the uninsured population average in the nation.

Approximately 600,000 DACA participants contribute an estimated $6.2 billion in taxes toward federally funded programs such as Medicaid and Medicare. Yet when DACA recipients lose employment through companies or unions that offer health benefits, they are ineligible to access federally assisted unemployment programs such as Medicaid, CHIP or the Affordable Care Act (ACA) health insurance marketplace.

Amongst the NILC survey participants, 71% of DACA individuals have experienced at least one incident where they or their family members were unable to pay medical bills or expenses. Furthermore, more than 20% of the DACA recipients surveyed by NILC feared that utilizing health care services could negatively impact their own or their family’s immigration status.

Yet not holding DACA status would put these individuals at even greater risk for inadequate medical care. Undocumented immigrant adults are far more likely to be uninsured than their lawfully present counterparts, with estimates ranging from 46% to 71%.

And children with United States citizenship who have one or more noncitizen parents are twice as likely to be uninsured as children with two parents who hold citizenship, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF).

However, there may be health care hope on the horizon for DACA recipients who wish to purchase private insurance.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) recently proposed a ruling that would extend health insurance access to individuals who have been in the United States since childhood, and who work or study under the protection of the DACA program.

Under this proposed rule, DACA recipients would be allowed to participate in Medicaid and the ACA marketplace. The DHHS bill has not yet been finalized, but the proposed effective date for DACA participants could be as early as Nov. 1, 2023, if approved.

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In the meantime, DACA individuals can seek medical coverage through employers or unions that offer health insurance benefits. Family members who are eligible to participate in the ACA health insurance marketplace can also claim their DACA dependents on their insurance policies. And students may be able to seek out health care through their college or university.

DACA recipients can also seek out cash pay clinics, although out-of-pocket costs can be prohibitive, especially for a demographic where 43% have incomes below 200% of the federal poverty level, which is $14,580 for a single-member household in 2023.

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