Grantee Spotlight: Connecting Undocumented New Yorkers to Coverage

With NYHealth support, the New York City Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs (MOIA) embarked on a public education campaign in 2016—the largest effort in the United States of its kind—to raise awareness among the tens of thousands of Medicaid-eligible immigrants living in New York City and connect them to health insurance.

In this Grantee Spotlight Q&A, NYHealth Program Officer Amy Shefrin and MOIA Deputy Director of Policy Sam Solomon discuss the campaign and its impact, the benefits in having more immigrants covered under health insurance, and the anxiety and uncertainty surrounding DACA’s future.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program has given hundreds of thousands of young, undocumented immigrants living in the United States an opportunity to legally work and study without fear of deportation. Established by an executive action in 2012, DACA provides employment authorization, temporary protection from deportation, and a Social Security number to work and pay taxes for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States before the age of 16 years and who have been in the country for at least five years. New York State is one of the few states that also provides a pathway to health insurance for DACA recipients by allowing those who are income-eligible to qualify for Medicaid. However, many DACA recipients and potential DACA applicants have been unaware of this option and have gone uninsured.

MOIA’s public education campaign increased awareness of Medicaid eligiblity and enrollment, reaching thousands of immigrants in New York City. Watch the following Q&A segments to learn more:

Do immigrants have access to Obamacare and health insurance coverage?

What is DACA, and how is it a path for health insurance in New York?

What was the campaign to reach immigrant youth in New York City?

How has the campaign been sustained?

What is the impact on our health care system when immigrants do not have health insurance?

What effect has the uncertainty over the future of DACA had in New York?

What are some opportunities to support this work in the future?

New Yorkers Who Got Covered Under Obamacare

Why Getting Health Insurance Matters.

Ben’s Story: Composed and Covered

Ben is a composer who currently works at an Off-Broadway show. Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Ben was allowed to stay on his parents’ insurance until he turned 26 this past July. Ben did a lot of research on his own to see what his insurance options were, but he still had a lot of questions. Then a friend referred him to free assistance at the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, where a counselor was able to answer all his questions and help him choose a plan. Now, Ben has coverage that’s helping to pay for his medications, and he plans to keep going to Callen-Lorde for primary care.

Jerome’s Story: Coverage for the Future

Between his part-time job at a retail pharmacy and his job as an after-school teacher, Jerome works every day of the week. Uninsured for years, he couldn’t afford to miss a day of work if he got sick or wanted to go to the doctor, even when it was necessary. With help from the Center for Frontline Retail, Jerome found out he was newly eligible for Medicaid under health reform in New York. Jerome is now covered so he can see a doctor when he needs to, stay healthy, and work toward becoming a full-time teacher.

Luis & Carmen’s Story: Covered for Their Health

Luis worked at The Plaza Hotel for 40 years; then he had a heart attack and had to leave his job to go on disability. When Luis’ employer-based coverage ended in September, he didn’t know how he would afford health care for himself and his wife, Carmen. He went to the Health and Welfare Council of Long Island for help with finding a new plan. Now, his new health insurance will allow Luis to get care for all his health conditions, including his neuropathy, diabetes, and heart problems.

Read more stories about New Yorkers who got health coverage with the help of the Enrollment Network.

About this Initiative

In the second year of open enrollment under the ACA, there is still a high need for direct assistance and face-to-face support to help individuals enroll in health insurance. To engage uninsured New Yorkers and help them enroll in coverage, the New York Health Foundation (NYHealth) is funding community-based organizations that serve as trusted messengers to their communities for outreach and enrollment activities. An October 2014 poll by NYHealth found that 92% of New Yorkers who became newly insured under health reform are completely or somewhat satisfied with their health insurance, but some respondents report encountering barriers to care and using their insurance. Learn more about NYHealth’s range of outreach and enrollment efforts, including the Enrollment Network, which has helped Jerome, Ben, Luis, and thousands of other uninsured New Yorkers across the State enroll in health insurance.

Low-Income New Yorkers with Health Issues Obtain Legal Help During Hard Times

The economic downturn and rising cost of living have forced many working New Yorkers onto a precipice of financial instability—and for some a serious illness can send them over the edge into poverty.

A hotel agent at a Manhattan hotel, Alan was young, married, and in relatively good health until he developed a persistent health problem in 2008. After seeing a doctor, he learned that he had a tumor.

At the outset, Alan’s prognosis was good—it looked like he would only need surgery and that he wouldn’t spend extended time in the hospital or require chemotherapy.

Unfortunately, the cancer wasn’t that easy to treat. Starting in late 2008, Alan underwent several radiation treatments. When he wasn’t in the hospital, Alan was exhausted from his treatments and sick from the effects of the chemotherapy. And while his employer adjusted his schedule to accommodate his illness, Alan was only able to work a day or two per week for a few hours at a time.

Bills began to pile up and Alan fell behind on his rent. In addition to his life-threatening disease, Alan and his family also faced a lawsuit from their landlord for overdue rent and barely had money to buy food. Without access to or knowledge about existing resources, Alan and his family didn’t know where to turn for help.

Then a social worker at the hospital connected Alan with a lawyer named Brian from LegalHealth.

Brian sat down with Alan and his family to determine what options were available to them. Brian then helped Alan complete the necessary paperwork to enroll him in public benefits programs and to request short-term disability. Brian also looked for solutions to Alan’s housing situation so that his family would not risk losing their apartment.

With Brian’s assistance, Alan and his family were able to gain access to food stamps and short-term disability—providing them with enough resources to cover their expenses during Alan’s treatment and recovery. Brian also helped Alan apply for Social Security disability and when his initial application was denied, Brian assisted him with the appeal. Eventually the family was also able to recover several months in back payments to help pay their landlord for the rent owed. Access to these resources helped to pull Alan and his family back from the brink during this critical time.

Three years later, Alan is recovering from his battle with cancer and is looking forward to returning to work. Without the support from NYLAG’s LegalHealth Division, he doesn’t think he would be in this position today.

By connecting people to health resources and helping them navigate complex legal challenges during times of illness and vulnerability, LegalHealth plays an important role in improving the health of New Yorkers across the State. It has made a significant difference in Alan’s life and to thousands of others like him.

About this Initiative

The New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG), a nonprofit that provides free legal services to low-income New Yorkers, is working to soften the fall for families who have hit hard times and ultimately help them get back on their feet. NYLAG’s LegalHealth Division assists people in overcoming a variety of legal challenges, from gaining rent assistance to securing eligibility for public benefits during serious illnesses. This support helps people with serious illnesses to concentrate on getting better without also fearing the loss of their homes or defaulting on their bills.

LegalHealth has already helped thousands of New Yorkers improve the lives of low-income children and adults with serious health issues by improving access to health care and connecting them to benefits. With support from NYHealth, LegalHealth is now helping to expand medical-legal partnerships in four regions throughout the State to reach a greater number of New Yorkers

NYHealth is supporting NYLAG’s efforts with a grant through the NYHealth Special Projects Fund. The project is consistent with the Foundation’s interest in supporting projects that scale up effective programs or services to reach more people.

A Small Business Owner Is Able to Offer Health Care Benefits

The owner of Akwaaba Bed & Breakfast since 1995, Monique Greenwood is committed to providing health care coverage for her employees.

Today, Monique has opened additional locations in New Jersey, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania, but believes that the true mark of her success as a small business owner was being able to offer health care benefits.

Monique easily found information about plans and pricing through NYC Health Insurance Link, developed by the Human Resources Administration’s Office of Citywide Health Insurances Access with support from an NYHealth grant. This Web-based tool helped New Yorkers find a health insurance plan that best fit their health care needs and budgets. Business owners like Monique could search for and compare health plans, including those with low and high deductibles; those with and without particular benefits, such as prescription drugs; and those with in- and out-of-network provider choices. The tool provides users with a full range of comprehensive health plans available in New York City from every carrier, tips to help consumer and business owners find more affordable coverage options, and timely information of coverage changes happening now and in the as a result of federal health care reform.

“Being able to now offer health care benefits has helped me attract and retain the best possible staff in the industry,” said Monique. And NYC Health Insurance Link “allows me to find the most affordable coverage for my staff.”