Noncitizen immigrants to get health coverage in Illinois

FILE – In this June 25, 2019, file photo, Gov. J. B. Pritzker signs a bill in Chicago. (AP Photo/Amr Alfiky File)

CHICAGO — Low-income immigrants ages 65 and older in Illinois will be eligible for health care coverage that is similar to Medicaid despite their immigration status.

Ananias Ocampo, who is at high risk of contracting the virus because of his age and health, does not qualify for Medicare, Social Security, or any other federal assistance because of his immigration status. But the 76-year-old will be able to apply for the program in December. The expansion was part of the state budget passed this year, the Chicago Tribune reported.

“At least now I can be at peace knowing that if I get sick, I can go see a good doctor that can help me heal without having to worry about not having the money to pay for the treatment,” Ocampo, who has diabetes, said in Spanish.

Hayley Burgess of the National Immigration Law Center said Illinois is the first state to fully fund a program of this nature for noncitizen immigrant older people.

The Illinois Legislative Latino Caucus supported the program in response to data showing uninsured older people who contracted the coronavirus could risk more severe complications, resulting in more medical bills the state would pay for, said Rep. Delia Ramirez, D-Chicago.

A Rush University Medical Center study shows that the population of older immigrants in a situation like Ocampo’s will “substantially” grow in the state in the next 10 years, said Padraic Stanley, a program coordinator at Rush who conducted the unpublished study with Chicago researcher Rob Paral.

“It ultimately shows that we need structural solutions because currently, undocumented older adults are being serviced (in health care institutions) with a patchwork of resources and people or certain organizations making exceptions to find creative solutions for patients,” Stanley said.

The program is expected to cost the state $5 million, said Evan Fazio, a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services.

Eligible applicants can enroll in December through the state website and call centers. They will be able to apply for retroactive coverage which will cover health care bills from the past year.