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Nevada officials encourage immigrants to apply for public health insurance following rollback of public charge rule

Jazmin Orozco Rodriguez
Jazmin Orozco Rodriguez
Health CareImmigration
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The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services building in Las Vegas

State officials said this week that eligible immigrants should apply to Medicaid now that a rule penalizing people for using public assistance has been rolled back. 

In February 2020, changes made by the Department of Homeland Security to the public charge rule created greater restrictions for immigrants seeking admission to the U.S. through visas or residency from applying for Supplemental Social Security Income, Medicaid and food and housing assistance. A panel for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals barred the additional limitations in December, arguing that it was too restrictive and created a strain on state and local programs. The Biden administration also promised to reverse the rule as part of its immigration plan. 

The public charge rule does not apply to immigrants seeking to become citizens of the U.S., refugees, people seeking asylum or domestic violence and human-trafficking victims. 

“We are committed to improving the health of Nevadans and reducing the number of uninsured in this state,” said Suzanne Bierman, Nevada Medicaid administrator, in the press release on Monday. “We want Nevadans, including eligible immigrant populations, to know that applying for needed health insurance from Medicaid will not impact immigration status.”

Under the new conditions, immigrants seeking to adjust their immigration status via the admission process, meaning those who are applying for visas or lawful permanent residency status, can apply for Medicaid without jeopardizing their immigration application. Those with a “lawfully present” status, such as people with worker visas, student visas and Temporary Protected Status (TPS), are eligible for health benefits via the Nevada health exchange, but not through Medicaid. 

Lawful permanent residents are eligible for Medicaid five years after they attain that status. Trafficking survivors, veterans with a legal status, refugees and asylum-seekers are eligible for Medicaid and are exempt from the five-year period. 

Trump-era restrictions to the public charge rule created a chilling effect among immigrants in Southern Nevada, and in other states, according to a 2020 Urban Institute report, which found that 1 in 5 immigrant families reported avoiding public health benefits in 2019, after the changes to the rule were proposed but before they were enacted. 

Nevada’s uninsured population ranks as sixth highest in the country. As of 2017, nearly 400,000 people, or 14 percent of the state population, were uninsured, according to a Guinn Center report. Of the uninsured, more than half were eligible to enroll in Medicaid, but had gone without it. More than 40 percent of the uninsured were not eligible, possibly because they had declined employer-sponsored health plans or because they were undocumented.

Immigrants who are undocumented are not eligible for health coverage under the Medicaid program, but may be once they adjust their status and obtain a “green card,” or become legal permanent residents.

“This chilling effect of people disenrolling themselves or their children during the pandemic due to the 2019 Public Charge Rule, when those benefits were needed most, really set back years of efforts around educating the immigrant community and ensuring that eligible people were receiving the benefits they qualified for,” said Margarita Salas Crespo, senior advisor for the Office for New Americans. 

“As a State, we want to ensure we are increasing the rate of insured individuals and that families are accessing benefits available to them – addressing concerns about Public Charge and clearing confusion is how we can address this within our immigrant community.” 

Salas Crespo said the office will continue working with community organizations to ensure eligible Nevada immigrants are aware of the changes to the public charge rule.

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