Low-income immigrants are afraid to seek health care amid the Covid-19 pandemic

Friday, March 13, 2020

As coronavirus fears sweep the nation, people are taking cautionary measures against the disease it causes, Covid-19. These include working from home, stockpiling food, and visiting doctors over any possible symptoms. For many from low-income immigrant communities, however, these precautions and accommodations are essentially luxuries, making them particularly vulnerable during the pandemic.

So far, the federal government has taken some action to provide support to these groups. In the most recent $8.3 billion coronavirus funding bill that passed, Congress promised to allocate $100 million toward community health centers that treat underserved groups. In addition, Reps. Diana DeGette (D-CO) and Donna Shalala (D-FL) introduced a bill on Tuesday to waive testing fees — which can add up to hundreds of dollars — for all Americans with insurance.

However, the problem is many low-income immigrants do not have health care to begin with. While only 8 percent of citizens are uninsured, that number rises to 23 percent among immigrants with legal status, according to a 2019 report from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Meanwhile, among undocumented immigrants, uninsured rates further jump to 45 percent.

It doesn’t help that the Trump administration’s public charge rule, which makes it harder for immigrants to obtain a green card when they receive government benefits, went into effect two weeks ago. The rule discourages immigrants from using Medicaid, and potentially leaves these people without access to affordable health care — which is particularly dangerous during times like this.

“Epidemics don’t discriminate,” Louise McCarthy, president of the Community Clinic Association of Los Angeles, told Vox. “They don’t discriminate based on your documentation status, based on your income, or anything — and health care shouldn’t discriminate, either.”