Under the Affordable Care Act, refugees – lawfully present immigrants – have the same benefits as U.S. citizens. This means refugees do not have to wait five years to qualify for Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program. But they do have to wait roughly 18 months to be vetted by the Department of Homeland Security — DHS.
According to U.S. News and World Report, specially trained DHS agents travel to countries where refugees have fled before coming to the U.S. They interview the applicants to ensure they meet the requirements for asylum seekers. The agents also verify that the applicants do not propose security threats.
A proposal to settle 10,000 Syrian refugees in the U.S. has come under fire from both Republicans and Democrats. Lawmakers are concerned because one of the attackers in the Paris massacre carried a Syrian passport. The House of Representatives passed legislation requiring stricter background checks on the refugees to eliminate any possibility they may threaten national security.
10,000 and counting
The DHS vetting process involves interviewing and conducting a background check on each applicant. Unless the department has dispatched a phalanx of agents, processing 10,000 would-be asylum seekers may take much longer than 18 months. Once cleared, refugees are sent to nine resettlement centers here in the United States. Refugees are distributed all over the U.S., though efforts are made to keep family members together.
Refugees and health coverage
According to Kaiser Health News, unlike immigrants, who must wait five years before being eligible for federal health plans, refugees are automatically enrolled in Medicaid or Refugee Medical Assistance. After eight months on Refugee Medical Assistance, subscribers must find alternative health coverage. Provided they still qualify, individuals on Medicaid may reapply for benefits. The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes the 2014 unemployment rate for foreign-born persons was 5.6 percent – compared to 6.3 percent for native-born workers. Under the Affordable Care Act, companies with 50 or more full-time employees must provide health insurance for those employees.
The Office of Advocacy of the Small Business Association – SBA — notes in 2010, there were nearly 28 million small businesses in the U.S. The SBA defines a small business as employing fewer than 500 employees. Based on the number of small businesses and the Affordable Care Act stipulation that companies must provide insurance to full-time employees, it is reasonable to conclude, legally, refugees have the same access to health coverage as do normal U.S. citizens.
Lost in transplantation
The Center for Immigration Studies notes the exodus of immigrants from the Middle East to the U.S. is a costly trek. According to Center research, each Middle Eastern refugee costs the U.S. around $64,000 during the individual’s first five years in the country. In fairness, no data on the typical cost of refugees from other regions was found. On average, Middle Eastern refugees possess the equivalent of a tenth grade education and rely heavily on welfare programs for subsistence.
Kaiser Health News finds immigrants experience difficulty navigating the U.S. health system. Many speak little or no English. There are insufficient case workers to lend aid.
On paper, refugees partake in the same opportunities for health coverage as do U.S. citizens – and they have greater privileges than regular immigrants. In reality, many refugees go without insurance because of language barriers and an inability or reluctance to explore their health care options.
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Written by Darren Fraser, Sovereign Health Group writer