Obamacare: Children of Illegal Immigrant Parents Face an Uncertain Future

Thousands of children born in the United States with parents who are illegal immigrants probably go without health insurance.

Thousands of children born in the United States to illegal immigrant parents will likely go without health insurance to remain under the radar. Source: Florida Watchdog

“We tell them not to be afraid to register their children, that we will not share [their] personal information with anyone else,” Karelia Stanford told Florida Watchdog. Stanford is one of several certified enrollment consultants working at the Doris Ison Community Health Center in southern Florida.

About 575,000 children — or 13.5 percent of Florida children — are uninsured, according to the American Academics of Pediatrics. The majority are eligible for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Many of the children are offspring of illegal immigrant parents who shy away from enrolling in anything involving the government. They worry someone will share their personal information with other government agencies, including immigration officials, and that they could be deported.

The fear of being discovered means countless children end up in emergency rooms simply because their parents waited too long to seek help.

According to a study of 23 states in 2005, uninsured children visiting an emergency room accounted for 8.6 percent of the total.

Leighton Ku and Sheetal Matani investigated and published their findings in Health Affair.

“From a policy perspective, the insurance gaps for citizen children in immigrant families are distressing, since they are eligible for Medicaid and SCHIP and are a major target of outreach campaigns. The insurance coverage of US-born children of immigrants has fallen in recent years.” Ku and Matani said.

Their study noted that children in non-citizen families had less initial access to ambulatory medical and emergency medical care and, even when they had access, often received less care.

Another problem involves dental health. A study in Washington state showed a trip to the ER was the first “dental visit” for one in four children overall and for roughly half the children younger than 3.5 years old.

The Doris Ison Community Health Center has a lot of experience in helping these people.

“Here we work a lot with seasonal farm workers and migrants who are undocumented. We serve [everyone] without asking about their immigration status,” said Tiffany Helberg, spokeswoman for the health center.

None of this was lost on the people who work at the Academy of Pediatrics. The academy, in an open letter to the US Senate, warned about the unintended consequences of health-care reform and the enrollment requirement as requisite for seeking care.

“As advocates for the children we serve, we urge you to maintain protections in the bill against immigration enforcement actions occurring at sensitive locations such as schools and healthcare facilities as the bill moves forward. Health care facilities should be seen as a safe space for children and their families. To accomplish this neither medical nor health care facilities records should be used in any immigration enforcement action.”

The academy also considers the immigration bill a “missed opportunity” that should have been designed in such a way to ensure that every individual, especially children, are covered.

“As children health experts and advocates, we remain concerned that the legislation does little to address the multiple barriers to accessing comprehensive, affordable, and culturally and linguistically effective health care services faced by many children in immigrant communities.”

According to the nonprofit Child Defense Fund, 7.2 million uninsured children in the United States are uninsured. Every 70 seconds a child is born uninsured, and each day 1,208 more are born without health coverage.

This article first appeared in Florida Watchdog. Editor’s note: the original version of this article used the term “undocumented,” as opposed to “illegal.”

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