How to Get Health Insurance for Immigrant Parents?

Navigating the healthcare system in a new country can be a daunting task, especially for immigrant families seeking to secure health insurance for their loved ones. For many, the dream of a better life is closely tied to the well-being and health of their parents who have made the journey with them or joined them later. Understanding the intricacies of health insurance policies, eligibility criteria, and the impact of immigration status on coverage options is crucial for ensuring that immigrant parents receive the care they need.

Health Insurance for Immigrants

This article aims to shed light on the essential steps and considerations for obtaining health insurance for immigrant parents, providing a beacon of hope and clarity amidst the complex landscape of healthcare in the United States. Whether you are just starting out on this journey or looking to update your knowledge, this guide will walk you through the process, ensuring that your loved ones are protected.

Eligibility Criteria

When discussing the eligibility criteria for health insurance for immigrant parents in the United States, it’s important to cover the following points:

  1. Lawfully Present Immigrants: Immigrants who are lawfully present in the U.S. can obtain Marketplace coverage and may qualify for premium tax credits and other savings on Marketplace plans. The term “lawfully present” includes a variety of immigration statuses.
  2. Qualified Non-Citizen Status: This status generally makes one eligible for coverage through Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), subject to state income and residency rules.
  3. Income Levels: Eligibility for premium tax credits and other savings on Marketplace health insurance is often based on annual household income as a percentage of the federal poverty level (FPL).
  4. Special Enrollment Periods: Immigrants with incomes below 150% FPL who are not eligible for Medicaid or CHIP may enroll in or change Marketplace coverage through a Special Enrollment Period.
  5. Five-Year Waiting Period: Many qualified non-citizens, such as Lawful Permanent Residents (green card holders), may have a five-year waiting period before they are eligible for Medicaid and CHIP.
  6. Documentation: Immigrants will need to provide documentation of their immigration status and income to apply for health insurance through the Marketplace.
  7. Humanitarian Statuses: Immigrants with humanitarian statuses or circumstances, such as Temporary Protected Status, Special Juvenile Status, asylum applicants, and victims of trafficking, are eligible for Marketplace coverage.
  8. Valid Non-Immigrant Visas: Those holding valid non-immigrant visas are considered lawfully present and may qualify for Marketplace coverage.
  9. Legal Status Conferred by Other Laws: Individuals with temporary resident status, LIFE Act, and Family Unity individuals are also eligible for Marketplace health plans.
  10. Non-Cash Benefits: The use of non-cash benefits, such as food and nutrition assistance (SNAP), disaster assistance, pandemic assistance, and benefits received via tax credits or deductions, will not be considered in the public charge determination.
  11. Cash-Based Benefits: Receipt of cash-based benefits like Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) will not automatically exclude an individual from admission or green card eligibility but will be considered in a totality of the circumstances analysis.

Remember, eligibility rules can vary by state and individual circumstances, so it’s important to check the specific rules in your state and consult with a professional if needed. 

Marketplace Coverage

Immigrant parents can access health insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace by following these steps:

  1. Determine Eligibility: First, immigrant parents need to determine if they are considered “lawfully present” under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). This includes a variety of immigration statuses such as “qualified non-citizen,” humanitarian statuses, valid non-immigrant visas, and legal status conferred by other laws.
  2. Marketplace Application: They can apply for health coverage through the Marketplace during the Open Enrollment Period or during a Special Enrollment Period if they qualify due to certain life events or if their household income is below a certain amount.
  3. Income Assessment: Their annual household income will be assessed to determine eligibility for premium tax credits and other savings on Marketplace health coverage. If the income is between 100% and 400% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), they may qualify for these savings.
  4. Special Enrollment Periods: If their annual income is at or below 150% FPL and they’re not eligible for Medicaid or CHIP, they may be able to enroll in or change Marketplace coverage through a Special Enrollment Period.
  5. Selecting a Plan: After determining eligibility, they can use the “See plans” tool on to evaluate their health plan options before enrolling.
  6. Enrollment: If they qualify for ACA marketplace coverage, they will need to go through the marketplace call center to select and enroll in a plan.
  7. Documentation: They will need to provide documentation of their immigration status and income when applying for health insurance through the Marketplace.
  8. Medicaid and CHIP: If they are “qualified non-citizens,” they may also be generally eligible for coverage through Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), if they meet state income and residency rules.

By following these steps, immigrant parents can navigate the Marketplace to find the health insurance coverage that best fits their needs. It’s important to note that undocumented immigrants are not eligible for Marketplace health coverage, but they can apply for coverage on behalf of documented individuals.

Medicaid and CHIP

Medicaid Plan for Immigrants

Qualified non-citizens are generally eligible for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) if they meet certain criteria. Here’s a summary of the eligibility criteria:

  1. Qualified Non-Citizens: This includes Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs or green card holders), Asylees and Refugees, Cuban/Haitian entrants, Parolees for more than 1 year, Battered non-citizens, spouses and children, Victims of trafficking, Veterans and active military, and their spouses and children.
  2. Five-Year Waiting Period: Many qualified immigrants have a 5-year waiting period before they can enroll in Medicaid or CHIP. However, some groups are exempt from this waiting period, such as Refugees, Asylees, Cuban/Haitian entrants, Trafficking Victims, and Veteran families.
  3. Lawfully Residing Children and Pregnant Women: The Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act (CHIPRA) made available a state option to cover children and/or pregnant women who are lawfully present and otherwise eligible, without a 5-year waiting period, regardless of the date of entry into the U.S.
  4. Income and State Residency Criteria: Individuals must meet the income and state residency criteria set by their state of residence.
  5. Undocumented Immigrants: Federal funding does not cover undocumented immigrants, except for payment for limited emergency services.
  6. Application Process: The state may only require an individual to provide the information necessary to make an eligibility determination.

Please note that these are general guidelines and the exact eligibility criteria can vary by state. It’s always a good idea to check with your state’s Medicaid office for the most accurate information.

Barriers to Enrollment

Immigrant families in the United States often encounter several barriers when trying to access health care and insurance. Addressing these challenges is crucial for ensuring that they can obtain the coverage and medical services they need. Here are some common barriers that immigrant families face:

  1. Higher Uninsured Rates: Many immigrants have higher uninsured rates compared to U.S.-born individuals, which can limit their access to healthcare services.
  2. Affordability Challenges: The cost of health insurance and medical care can be prohibitive for immigrant families, making it difficult for them to afford necessary treatments.
  3. Linguistic Barriers: Language differences can impede understanding of health insurance options and hinder communication with healthcare providers.
  4. Cultural Barriers: Cultural differences may affect immigrants’ willingness to seek care and their interactions with healthcare systems.
  5. Immigration-Related Fears: Concerns about affecting immigration status or being subject to public charge determinations can deter immigrant families from enrolling in health insurance programs, even if they are eligible.
  6. Confusion About Eligibility Policies: Uncertainty about who qualifies for various health insurance programs can prevent eligible immigrants from applying.
  7. Difficulty Navigating the Enrollment Process: Complex application procedures and documentation requirements can be overwhelming for immigrant families.
  8. Literacy Challenges: Limited literacy, particularly in English, can make it challenging for immigrants to understand insurance forms and health information.
  9. Lack of Awareness: Some immigrant families may not be aware of their eligibility for health insurance programs or the benefits they offer.
  10. Fear of Deportation: The fear of attracting attention from immigration authorities can prevent immigrants from seeking health insurance and care.
  11. Limited Access to Technology: Some immigrants may have limited access to the internet or technology, which is often necessary for researching and enrolling in health insurance plans.
  12. Distrust of Government or Institutions: Past experiences or perceptions may lead to a general distrust of government or healthcare institutions, which can discourage engagement with health insurance systems.

By understanding and addressing these barriers, policymakers, healthcare providers, and community organizations can work towards improving access to health insurance and care for immigrant families.

State-Specific Options

Health insurance coverage options for immigrants can vary significantly across different states, reflecting a diverse landscape of policies and programs. Here are some key variations to highlight:

  1. State-Funded Programs: As of March 2024, 12 states and D.C. provide fully state-funded coverage for income-eligible children regardless of immigration status. Additionally, six states plus D.C. offer fully state-funded coverage to some income-eligible adults without considering their status.
  2. Medicaid and CHIP Expansion: Most states have taken up options in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to expand coverage to lawfully present immigrant children and pregnant women.
  3. Coverage Rates: Immigrant adults in states that provide more expansive coverage are half as likely to be uninsured as those in states with less expansive coverage. For example, the uninsured rate is 11% in states with more expansive coverage compared to 22% in states with less expansive coverage.
  4. Uninsured Rates Among Noncitizens: Despite coverage expansions, uninsured rates remain high among noncitizen immigrants18% of lawfully present immigrant adults and half of likely undocumented immigrant adults report being uninsured.
  5. Private Coverage Access: Some states have taken steps to reduce disparities by providing Medicaid-equivalent benefits to certain populations of undocumented residents, thereby increasing the uptake of comprehensive coverage among people with fewer resources.
  6. Federal Safety Net Gaps: The federal safety net contains significant holes, particularly for immigrant populations. Federal programs like Medicaid and subsidized ACA marketplace coverage limit eligibility based on citizenship and immigration status.
  7. State Initiatives: Coverage for undocumented immigrants beyond emergency care is governed by state initiatives using state-only funds. Some states elect to provide prenatal care to pregnant individuals, regardless of immigration status, using federal CHIP funds.
  8. Policy Climate Impact: The state immigrant policy climate can influence health insurance coverage rates for immigrants. In states with more inclusive policies, immigrants are expected to have higher rates of Medicaid coverage compared to those in states with exclusive policies.

These variations underscore the importance of understanding state-specific policies and programs when seeking health insurance coverage for immigrant parents. It’s essential for immigrants and those assisting them to be aware of the unique options available in their respective states.

Healthcare Access Rights

Immigrants in the United States have certain rights when it comes to accessing healthcare services and enrolling in health insurance affordability programs. Here are some key points to clarify their rights:

1. Right to Healthcare Services

  • All individuals, regardless of immigration status, have the right to receive emergency medical care under federal law.
  • Community health centers provide low-cost care to patients, including undocumented immigrants, often including preventive and primary care services.

2. Health Insurance Marketplace

  • Lawfully present immigrants can purchase coverage through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Marketplaces and may qualify for premium tax credits and other savings on Marketplace plans without a waiting period.
  • Immigrants with “qualified non-citizen” status may be eligible for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), if they meet state income and residency rules.

3. Medicaid and CHIP

  • Qualified non-citizens generally are eligible for Medicaid and CHIP coverage, subject to state policies.
  • There may be a five-year waiting period for certain qualified non-citizens, like Lawful Permanent Residents, before they can receive Medicaid and CHIP coverage.

4. Subsidies and Tax Credits

Lawfully present immigrants with low and moderate incomes may qualify for health insurance affordability programs, such as tax credits, that help offset premium costs for ACA marketplace plans, Medicaid, or CHIP.

5. Special Enrollment Periods

Immigrants who experience certain life events or have household incomes below a certain amount may qualify for a Special Enrollment Period to sign up for health insurance.

6. Undocumented Immigrants

While undocumented immigrants are ineligible for federal health coverage or access to the Federal Health Insurance Marketplace under the ACA, they can purchase private health coverage or access insurance through their employers.

7. Non-Discrimination

Healthcare providers and health insurance companies are prohibited from discriminating against individuals based on their immigration status.

8. Confidentiality

Health information is protected by privacy laws, and individuals have the right to confidentiality when seeking healthcare services.

It’s important for immigrants to be aware of these rights and to understand that there are resources available to help them navigate the healthcare system.

Impact of Immigration Status on Coverage

The availability and cost of health insurance coverage in the United States can be significantly impacted by an individual’s immigration status. Here’s how different statuses may affect these factors:

1. Lawfully Present Immigrants

  • They are generally eligible to purchase coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace and may qualify for subsidies like premium tax credits and cost-sharing reductions based on their income.
  • They can also enroll in Medicaid and CHIP if they meet certain income and residency requirements, although a five-year waiting period may apply for some statuses.

2. Undocumented Immigrants

  • They are not eligible for federal health insurance programs like Medicaid, CHIP, or Marketplace plans.
  • They often face higher uninsured rates due to limited access to private coverage, as they are more likely to work in jobs that do not offer employer-sponsored insurance.
  • The cost of private health insurance, if accessible, can be prohibitively expensive without the subsidies available to lawfully present immigrants.

3. Permanent Residents (Green Card Holders)

  • They may qualify for federal programs like Medicaid and CHIP after a five-year waiting period, depending on the state.
  • They can purchase Marketplace insurance with potential access to subsidies immediately upon obtaining lawful status.

4. Refugees, Asylees, and Other Humanitarian Immigrants

  • These groups are typically exempt from the five-year waiting period for Medicaid and CHIP and can access these programs upon arrival if they meet eligibility criteria.
  • They are also eligible for Marketplace coverage and subsidies without a waiting period.

5. Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)

Individuals with TPS or DACA are considered lawfully present and may be eligible for Marketplace coverage but are not eligible for Medicaid or CHIP unless they meet other eligibility criteria.

6. Non-Immigrant Visa Holders

Those on non-immigrant visas, such as student or work visas, may have access to employer-sponsored insurance or may need to purchase private insurance, which can be costly.

7. Mixed-Status Families

Families with members who have different immigration statuses may face unique challenges, as some may qualify for federal programs while others may not, affecting the overall cost and availability of coverage for the family.

The impact of immigration status on health insurance is complex and varies widely, with lawfully present immigrants having more options and potential for subsidies, while undocumented immigrants face significant barriers to coverage and higher costs. It’s important for immigrants to understand their specific eligibility based on their status and to seek assistance from healthcare navigators or legal aid organizations for guidance.


Q 1. What is the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and how does it benefit immigrant parents?

Ans. The Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, is a healthcare reform law that was enacted in 2010. It includes several provisions that expand access to subsidized health insurance coverage to the non-elderly population, including immigrants. Lawfully present immigrants, which includes those with “Qualified non-citizen” immigration status, humanitarian statuses or circumstances, valid non-immigrant visas, and legal status conferred by other laws, can get Marketplace coverage and may qualify for premium tax credits and other savings on Marketplace plans based on their income.

Q 2. What are the health insurance options for undocumented immigrant parents?

Ans. Undocumented immigrants are generally ineligible for federally funded health coverage options, including Medicaid, CHIP, ACA Marketplace coverage, and Medicare. However, they can purchase private health coverage or access insurance through their employers in some cases. Some states or localities may also provide health coverage regardless of immigration status.

Q 3. What are the penalties, if any, for not having health insurance as an immigrant in the U.S.?

Ans. There is no longer a federal penalty for not having health insurance in the U.S., as it was repealed in 2018. However, some states have implemented their own health coverage requirements, with penalties for residents who don’t maintain coverage.

Q 4. What is the role of private health insurance for immigrant parents?

Ans. Private health insurance plays a vital role for immigrant parents, especially for those who are not eligible for federally funded coverage options. Immigrants, especially undocumented immigrants, contribute billions of dollars in insurance premiums and taxes, and they help subsidize the U.S. health care system due to their lower health care use.

Q 5. What are the specific health insurance rules for refugees and asylees?

Ans. Refugees and asylees are generally eligible for immediate access to Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and the health coverage options under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) upon their arrival in the U.S. They are exempt from the five-year waiting period that applies to many other immigrants, so they can enroll in Medicaid or CHIP immediately if they meet the income and residency rules.


In conclusion, navigating the health insurance landscape for immigrant parents can be a complex task, but it’s not an impossible one. Understanding the eligibility criteria, exploring various coverage options, and being aware of the impact of immigration status on insurance availability and cost are crucial steps in this journey. While this guide provides a comprehensive overview, it’s important to remember that rules can vary by state and individual circumstances. Therefore, always consult with a professional or conduct thorough research to understand the specifics.

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