While understanding how to enroll for health care services can be a challenge for everybody, immigrants to the United States are far more likely to live uninsured. Navigating the health care process as an immigrant can be challenging due to language barriers, lack of funding for community health centers and outreach and enrollment services, cultural differences in seeking medical care and fear of government services. According to the Henry J Kaiser Family Foundation, 17 percent of non-elderly legal immigrants don’t have health insurance while about 39 percent of non-elderly undocumented immigrants live uninsured. Some community organizations like SEAMAAC are working to help immigrants register for health care services.
SEAMAAC is currently partnering with health care navigator organization Penn Asian Senior Services, one of the grantees of the federal Navigator contract, said Amy Jones, SEAMAAC’s health and social services director. Through the partnership, SEAMAAC staff are trained as navigators and meet with immigrants in their native languages to determine health care eligibility.
“There are so many layers to get health care,” Jones said. “Breaking them down helps illustrate how hard it is to access services.”
Step 1: Determine eligibility
To figure out what health care options one could eligible for, first determine income and pinpoint any possible fluctuations in it. If older than 65, check to see if Medicaid is an option. Otherwise, turn to the Affordable Care Act Marketplace. Individuals may also check with an employer to see if health benefits are covered.
“Those jobs are rare and a lot of the adults in the community are working a couple part-time jobs or jobs that don’t offer health insurance,” Jones said. “Most of our clients are pretty low income and qualify for Medicaid expansion.”
Step 2: Fill out the application
If help is needed with translation services, reach out to the staff at a local community organizations. They may be able to provide in-person translation services or translation over the phone to help navigate the various health insurance options.
Step 3: Gather documents verifying eligibility
Compile any tax forms or communications, like emails and letters, with potential health insurance providers. If English isn’t the native language, reach out to leaders in the community who can help translate the documents to fully understand the next steps in the process.
Step 4: Select a health plan
When weighing health care options, it’s important to keep a few things in mind.
“For most of us, it’s like, ‘Well which one should I pick and why?’” Jones said.
Keep in mind any pre-existing conditions that will need special attention and consider possible doctor’s visits every year.
Step 5: Select a health care provider
After choosing a level of insurance coverage, select a doctor’s office and a specific doctor. Consider the location of the doctor’s office. Is there public transport to take to the office? Or, if a vehicle is accessible, is it easy to drive to? Check if the doctor’s office has a doctor there who speaks the preferred language. Or, do they offer telephonic interpretation services? Ask around the local community to see if there is a doctor’s office that has a good reputation. If there are any specific health care needs, look to see if the office has a doctor who specializes in that area.
Step 6: Pay the monthly premium
A health insurance enrollment card should appear in the mail and it should be kept to be shown at the doctor’s office for an appointment. To keep health care services, pay the premium (monthly fee for health services) every month on or before the specified due date. This can often be done online or payments can be sent through the mail.
Step 7: Confirm scheduled appointments are in-network
Before going to a doctor’s appointment, verify every health care professional you’ll be seeing is within the coverage network. Sometimes for procedures like surgeries, a doctor will be within your health care network but the anesthesiologist won’t be, Jones explained.
The following locations in the city can assist in enrolling for health care:
- SEAMAAC at 1711 S Broad Street, Philadelphia, PA 19148
- Nationalities Service Center at 1216 Arch Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107
- Philadelphia Refugee Health Collaborative at 1216 Arch Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107
-Text and image by Laura Smythe.
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