Jessica Fox Last Updated On: August 1, 2023

We’re Helping: Understanding Health Insurance for New Immigrants​

The challenges of trying to start a new life in a new country can be overwhelming for anyone at any age. Add confounding information and misinformation about health insurance for immigrants to the mix, and you’ve got something else to worry about.

But worry no longer. Getting health insurance for immigrants isn’t only possible, but it may be easier than you think. 

Whether you’re looking into coverage for yourself or someone else, we’re here to tell you what you need to know to get the best health insurance for immigrants. 

Just keep reading.

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Table of Contents

Health Insurance Options for Immigrants

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), immigrants have easier and more affordable access to health care insurance. If you are in the US legally—be it as a citizen, with “non-immigrant” status (meaning you have a student or work visa), or any other immigrant status–there are several viable health insurance options available to you. We’ll get into all of them, but let’s start with a brief overview of two of the best options.
  • Employer-sponsored health care coverage –Many companies offer group health insurance plans with comprehensive coverage. If you or your spouse works for a company that offers a benefits package, you’re set!
  • ACA-compliant insurance in or out of your state’s exchange –Immigrants can enroll for health insurance during the Open Enrollment Period, which runs from November 1 to December 15 in most US states. Just keep in mind that should you choose a plan outside of the exchange, financial assistance (i.e. subsidies) will not be available.
If you’re a new immigrant looking for coverage, there is a special enrollment period that starts from the day you became a citizen or a lawfully present resident and lasts 60 days. During this time, you can enroll for a plan in your state’s exchange, as well as subsidies, should you be eligible for them

Health Insurance Subsidies for New Immigrants

Here’s where things get a little convoluted, but don’t worry: we’re going to break it down so the information is easy to understand. 

Health insurance subsidies help you pay for the premium by lowering the cost. These subsidies are available as tax credits to individuals and families with low to moderate incomes who purchase health insurance policies on the government-run ACA exchanges.

The problem is that until relatively recently, these subsidies weren’t available to people with income below the poverty level because these people are supposed to be on Medicaid—the government-funded health insurance for lower-income Americans. But new immigrants can’t enroll for Medicaid because they need to be in the country for five years first. 

To address this confounding situation, congress put into place an ACA provision that allows newer immigrants to access exchange subsidies—no matter how low their income may be—during the five-year period when Medicaid is not available to them. 

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Health Insurance for Pregnant Immigrants

The Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act (CHIPRA), which was instituted in 2009, gives states the option to give federally-funded CHIP and Medicaid benefits to children and pregnant women, even if they have not been lawfully in the US for five years. Oregon, California, and New York all have programs in place to support pregnant women and children. 

You can find out about CHIP in your state here. 

Health Insurance For Elderly Immigrant Parents

Take what we’ve learned about the five-year wait for Medicare vs Medicaid as well—the government’s health insurance for people 65 and older. This five-year wait puts this demographic of immigrants at an increased and unnecessary risk of not being able to afford the health care they require. 

The ACA provisions have remedied this issue, thankfully. Policies exist in the individual market on a guaranteed-issue basis, indiscriminate of age. What’s more, subsidies are available to immigrants 65 and older as well and there are caps on the premiums of policies held by new, elderly immigrants who use the Marketplace instead of Medicare. These caps apply even if immigrants do not qualify for subsidies because their income is too high.

Status Check: ACA Exchange Will Verify Your Immigrant Status

There are many valid immigrant statuses (including but not limited to lawful permanent residents, refugees, paroled to the US, asylee, and battered spouse/child), and part of the enrollment for health insurance under the ACA involves that you are able to prove that. If you can’t, you can’t get Marketplace health insurance in your state exchange. 

This said, you CAN apply for health insurance under an ACA-compliant plan outside the exchange since there is no federal restriction on that—but also, no federal subsidies, so you’ll be paying full price for your premiums. 

Something else to keep in mind, for a bit of peace of mind: while carriers ask about your immigration status, they don’t share these details with immigration authorities.

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Short Term Health Insurance for Immigrants

If you cannot afford ACA coverage, short term health insurance policies may be your best bet. Undeniably, it’s better than not having any insurance. Since these short-term plans aren’t sold through Marketplace exchanges, there’s often no requirement that enrollees give proof of their lawful residence in the country.

Another perk of short-term plans: their premiums are lower than the premiums of unsubsidized ACA-compliant plans. 

There is a drawback to short-term plans, however. Often, these policies do not preclude pre-existing conditions, so you can be denied coverage based on your medical history, unlike with ACA plans.

Travel Insurance Plans for New Immigrants

A final option for health insurance for new immigrants—especially if you just need to bridge a gap before you can qualify for a more permanent plan—is travel insurance. 

The main benefit of travel insurance is that it is better than no insurance. The major pitfalls of these plans are they usually won’t cover pre-existing conditions, don’t cover all essential health benefits (as outlined under the ACA), and are limited in regards to how much they will pay for your medical care. 

Still, if you can afford the generally reasonable premiums of this health insurance option for new immigrants, it’s far better than being completely uninsured.

The Bottomline About Health Insurance for Immigrants

We understand that finding health insurance for immigrants can be daunting. There are many barriers to getting the coverage you need and they can extend beyond your legal status. One of the biggest obstacles is simply not understanding the complex system of health insurance in the US. 

But we can help. 

Request a free comparison quote for immigrant health insurance and within minutes, you’ll be on your way to getting the coverage you need and deserve.

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Yes, there are several options available to you, depending on where you are residing, your age, and your legal status. Medicare and Medicaid are available, after a period of five years, as are ACA-compliant plans (within 60 days of your becoming a lawful citizen), employer group plan insurance, short-term insurance, and even travel insurance.

That depends on where you live. Check with your state to see if there’s a Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP program) or equivalent to help you.

Apply for plans in your state’s exchange. You may even qualify for subsidies, depending on your income level. Once you have been in the country for five years, you can apply for Medicare, but you will need to drop your exchange policy at this point.

No. ACA-compliant plans verify eligibility using your immigration documents. However, you can use short-term insurance plans, travel insurance plans and ACA-compliant plans outside of the Marketplace exchange.


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