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Story Retrieval Date: 4/17/2015 12:11:20 PM CST

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Tanvi Misra/MEDILL

Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois talked about ways to educate immigrants about their rights under the Affordable Care Act.

Illinois program is model for getting immigrants Obamacare access, experts say

by Tanvi Misra
May 9, 2013


Tanvi Misra/MEDILL

Abdelnasser Rashid, director of the Illinois Immigrant Integration Institute, talked about the report, which discusses implications of the Affordable Care Act for immigrants.

Activists and an insurance provider say immigrants may face barriers in getting health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, but point to a proven community-based program in Illinois as a model for solving the problems.

Key barriers include language and cultural rifts, complexity of the application process, lack of logistical and public education, and fear and mistrust particularly among mixed status families are some key barriers, according to the study released Thursday by the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois.

There are 259,000 immigrants who are uninsured in Illinois, said Luvia Quinones, director of the Immigrant Family Resource Program. Out this pool, 48 percent are eligible for the benefits provided by the Affordable Care Act.

Many people who were eligible, may not know about the law, said Donna Gerber, vice president of public affairs and community investment at Blue Cross.

“We think the biggest challenge or as we like to look at it, the biggest opportunity is to really be sure that the many people in Illinois who may benefit from the new law are aware of it,” she said, adding that access to insurance might be the first step in access to health care.

Mixed status families pose a particular challenge, because those members of the family without legal documents would not be eligible for the ACA subsidies, activists said.
However, Gerber said that buying insurance was still an option for those without legal documents.

“We’re working with a number of community-based providers to ensure that the safety net remains for the undocumented,” she said.

No matter what the legal status, the outreach solution is based on a model developed by the Immigrant Family Resource Program -- collaboration between ICIRR and the Illinois Department of Human Services. This model has been addressing some of the barriers to access for 13 years, activists said.

The partnerships with specific ethnic, religious and linguistic community groups that know the unique problems of the communities they serve help to deliver information “in their own language,” ICIRR representatives said.

“It’s effective but it’s also efficient and takes the burden off the state,” said Quinones.

The only obstacle to their outreach effort she foresees, Quinones said, is time.

The Oct. 1, 2013 date when open enrollment for the act begins is inching closer. She hopes that focusing on the coordination and collaboration will help achieve the goals they have, she said.

Gerber agrees, emphasizing that the more voices out there the better the messages will be received.

“The key to this campaign is a rise in tide moves all boats,” she said.