A view of the the Statue of Liberty. (Timothy Clary/AFP/Getty Images)
A view of the the Statue of Liberty. (Timothy Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

The March 31 deadline to sign up for health insurance is now less than two weeks away. On Monday, enrollment on Covered California went over the 1 million mark. But there are literally millions more Californians currently uninsured.

Many of those eligible for benefits under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) are immigrants. If you are a lawfully present immigrant you likely qualify for the benefits — and responsibilities — of the ACA. This means if you do not sign up for insurance by March 31, you may have to pay a fine next year on your taxes. This is either $95 per adult or 1 percent of your income, whichever is greater. For example, if you earn $30,000 a year, you might have to pay a $300 fine.

On the flip side, you may qualify for a subsidy to help you purchase health insurance. You do not need a green card to qualify. There is a long list of visas under which immigrants might be lawfully present in the U.S. Check this list from the federal government to see if your immigration status or visa means that you can quality for benefits. 

If you’re wondering how much you might pay for health insurance, Covered California has a cost calculator so you can estimate your premium. The cost calculator will also indicate if you are eligible for Medi-Cal.

Even if you make too much money to qualify for a subsidy, you can still purchase health insurance on the Covered California marketplace.

Seek Help in Person

Covered California is encouraging anyone who has questions about health insurance to talk to someone in person who can help them enroll. You can seek help from a certified enrollment counselor, your county’s human services agency or an insurance broker. You do not have to pay anything for these services, even from a broker. Many people helping — counselors, county employees or brokers — are fluent in languages besides English. Check this list from Covered California to see where you might go for help in your preferred language.

Health Insurance for Newly Arrived Aging Parents

The United States has had universal health insurance for nearly 50 years for some very specific people — those over 65 and some people who are disabled. These groups qualify for Medicare. But because of Medicare, there has not been an insurance market for immigrants over age 65. This meant that lawfully present immigrants or naturalized citizens had no way to provide health insurance for aging parents who sought to join their families in this country.

[Related: Obamacare Explained — Just For Californians; also in Spanish]

Until now. Under the Affordable Care Act, Californians of all ages can purchase health insurance on Covered California, as long as they are lawfully present.

As we’ve detailed earlier, there’s a lot of confusion about immigrants and the ACA.

Tanya Broder in the Oakland office of the National Immigration Law Center said that “most of the outreach materials and most of the material online are directed at citizens.”

She pointed out that the ACA seems to make the presumption that most people over 65 are receiving Medicare.

“But there’s nothing prohibiting someone who is lawfully present in the U.S. but ineligible for Medicare or Medicaid from purchasing coverage in the exchange,” Broder said.

Mixed Status Families

Undocumented immigrants are not eligible for benefits under the ACA. But their lawfully present relatives can sign up. President Obama insists he will not deport undocumented relatives of anyone who signs up for insurance. The National Immigration Law Center answers many questions in this online document about mixed status families.


Obamacare FAQ: Options for Immigrants 21 March,2014Lisa Aliferis


Lisa Aliferis

Lisa Aliferis is the founding editor of KQED’s State of Health blog. Since 2011, she’s been writing and editing stories for the site. Before taking up blogging, she toiled for many years (more than we can count) producing health stories for television, including Dateline NBC and San Francisco’s CBS affiliate, KPIX-TV. She also wrote up a handy guide to the Affordable Care Act, especially for Californians. Her work has been honored for many awards. Most recently she was a finalist for “Best Topical Reporting” from the Online News Association. You can follow her on Twitter: @laliferis

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