Illinois has begun a program that provides free health care for some older illegal immigrants.
The state legislature approved the program last year for persons who entered the U.S. illegally between the ages of 55 and 64. The free care includes doctor visits, hospital stays, lab work, physical therapy, mental health and substance abuse services, dental and vision, and prescription medications.
Federal law prohibits illegal immigrants from enrolling in most federal health care programs like Medicare. The state’s Health Benefits for Immigrant Adults program is the first of its kind in the U.S.
Illegal immigrants must have a household income below $18,754 for one person or $25,268 for two persons. On July 1, the program will expand further to include eligible illegal immigrants between ages 42 and 64.
Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services Director Theresa Eagleson said that bringing “more equitable health care” to the state is central to her department’s mission. She added that means increasing access “regardless of immigration status.”
Eagleson said that the state is still in a pandemic that has disproportionately harmed “older adults and people of color,” and “removing barriers” is more important to her department than ever.
Assistant Director Jenny Aquirre said that immigrant families “deserve to have a healthier future.” She added that illegal immigrants “face many challenges in their lives” and knowing that they have access to health care in Illinois gives them hope in the place they “have chosen as their home.”
Democratic state Rep. Delia Ramirez of Chicago said that the pandemic has shown the legislature that it is “critical” for everyone to have equal access to health care. She described the new program granting care to older illegals as a “significant step toward a more equitable” state health care system. She added that the legislature looks forward to building on the program until every illegal immigrant adult qualifies for the benefits.
It is unclear how much the expansion of benefits to cover illegal immigrants beginning at age 42 will cost Illinois. When the program began last year by covering those 65 and older, it was expected that it would cover up to 4,600 immigrant seniors at an estimated cost of up to $50 million per year.