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Two Years On: Health Care Reform and New York’s Immigrant Communities

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Press Contact: Thanu Yakupitiyage,  Main Phone: 212-627-2227 x235,  E-mail: tyaku@thenyic.org
New York City  (Wednesday, March 28, 2012)

Two Years On: Health Care Reform and New York’s Immigrant Communities

Two years since the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the historic health care reform law, the Supreme Court hears arguments on its constitutionality--one of the most significant cases to be heard in decades. At the same time, legislation at the state level that would set up the insurance exchange through which individuals and businesses could obtain health care coverage has yet to be passed.

Against this backdrop of transition and uncertainty in the health care arena, there are clear practical steps the state can take to ensure that health reform has the greatest possible impact in lowering health care costs, expanding coverage, and improving health outcomes. The New York Immigration Coalition’s health collaborative, made up of community groups working on immigrant health care advocacy and services, held a press conference to lay out these recommended steps, and to discuss the effect health care reform has already had and the promises and challenges it holds out for immigrant communities. Immigrants are three times as likely as the general population to lack health insurance and were at least partly shut out from some of the federal reform measures.

“While we watch the continuing controversy around health care reform this week as the Supreme Court evaluates its constitutionality, it is important to evaluate the impact of these reforms for our communities,” said Chung-Wha Hong, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition. “The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has provided new opportunities for individuals to access affordable quality health care services, though challenges, of course, remain, as some immigrants are left out. It is our hope that as the implementation process gets underway here at the state level, New York will make sure to be as inclusive as possible so that those shut out of federal reforms don’t fall through the cracks.”

Among issues of concern to be considered as health reform is rolled out at the state level:

  • The need for education of communities who still do not understand the law and how it will benefit them.
  • Addressing expansion of health care to individuals who will still remain uninsured after the health reform law is fully implemented.
  • Finding solutions to maintain charity care dollars as the ACA is implemented

The New York Immigration Coalition will be releasing a report highlighting its recommendations to address these concerns in the upcoming weeks.

Advocates representing diverse immigrant communities including South Asian, Caribbean, Latino, and Asian communities, discussed the various issues at play for immigrant communities.

“The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has already made a huge difference in the lives of many low-income New Yorkers with serious illnesses and disabilities. Over 2 million people with disabilities and seniors, who have Medicare, have received preventive services without co-pays and 3126 people with pre-existing conditions, who could not afford insurance, were able to get affordable insurance through the New York Bridge plan established through the ACA,” said Heidi Siegfried, Director of Policy, New Yorkers for Accessible Health Coverage. “We look forward to the creation of the Health Benefit Exchange in 2014, which will help bring down the cost of coverage, and we want to make sure that everybody knows of all their options for coverage and care.”

“The Affordable Care Act envisions a partnership between the federal government and the states to move toward health care for all, and New York creating a new health insurance exchange now is a vital step in that process,” said Mark Hannay, Director of the Metro New York Health Care for All Campaign. “If New York is smart and strategic about how it does it and gets it done, we’ll be well positioned to take advantage of further opportunities for states in the future.”

Speakers also highlighted the challenges for immigrant communities, including language barriers and the inability to navigate the bureaucracy of paperwork and the technicalities of the reform.

"It has been two years since the health care reform bill has passed, but there is a lack of knowledge and general misinformation about health care reform in the Korean community. We still need more education and outreach in simple languages for better understanding in the Korean community," said Eunjee Shin, Coordinator of Social Services at Korean Community Services (KCS).

"We need to make sure the health care safety net is protected," said Mirna Cortes, Director of Community Development at the Central American Refugee Center. “Our hospitals are important and play such a vital service in our community. With our assistance, our clients have been able to apply for financial assistance. My client, a 44- year old Honduran woman with temporary protected status (TPS), was able to access emergency room care and was hospitalized because she was at risk of losing her eyesight. She received hospital financial assistance, which was critical to her being able to afford the care she received and made a huge difference in her life. This example demonstrates the need to preserve our state safety net and the need for hospitals to comply with the Hospital Financial Assistance Law.”

“The community we serve at Emerald Isle Immigration Center desperately needs access to health insurance and information on the affordable care act from a reliable source in a culturally sensitive manner,” said Blanca Vega, health advocate at Emerald Isle Immigration Center. “We meet with immigrants daily who are on the margins of the current health insurance system, but have benefitted greatly under ACA. These immigrants and their families stand to gain from the full implementation of the Act, which will safeguard their health and welfare, while ensuring their families enjoy greater protection under their policies. EIIC supports the full implementation of the New York State Healthcare Exchange, which will provide a greater range of options to our clients. We believe that this component is vital in protecting access to healthcare for vulnerable communities in the State.”

“As an organization dealing with a host of underserved South Asian immigrant families, we are already seeing the immense benefits of the ACA,” said Sudha Acharya, Executive Director of South Asian Council for Social Services. “Whether it is the jobless son or daughter under age 26 getting on the parents' insurance, or the patient with a preexisting condition helped with the NY Bridge Plan, or our seniors being able to buy prescription drugs without the fear of the 'doughnut hole', the ACA is of extraordinary value to our communities"

Patricia Jean-Louis from Dwa Fanm Inc, said, “When it comes to working with clients on the issue of health care access in general, we at Dwa Fanm find an enormous disconnect exists between members of the Haitian community and the health care system . Our clients are often unaware of the opportunities available to them because of cultural and language barriers. Although language access is a part of today's health care system, it is often not put into practice. In addition, we find it very difficult to provide stable options for clients who are undocumented and/or come from mixed documented households. As a small agency, we do our best to advocate on behalf of our clients’, however we are aware that there are many immigrants that we do not have the opportunity to reach.”

"In our work with immigrants, we have witnessed the despair and frustration that my clients who are domestic violence survivors experience when not having medical health insurance that covers mental health and trauma,” said Reina Ubaldegaray, El Centro del Inmigrante and Project Hospitality. “Affordable care is essential to aid immigrants in crisis situations and we continue to work with our clients that face limitations and challenges to health care.”

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