WASHINGTON — Restoring access to Medicaid and SCHIP coverage for legally-admitted immigrants – some of the nation’s most vulnerable children and pregnant women – is imperative and the current SCHIP reauthorization debate represents an opportunity to restore these critical services, according to a new analysis issued by the Geiger Gibson/RCHN Community Health Foundation Research Collaborative at The George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services (GW/SPHHS). Under the 1996 welfare reform law, legally-admitted noncitizen children must wait five years before becoming eligible for Medicaid or SCHIP coverage. Since the law’s enactment, the gap in health insurance coverage between citizen and immigrant children has widened. Analysis of Census data shows that the percentage of immigrant children who are uninsured rose from 44 percent in 1995 to 49 percent in 2006, primarily because of reductions in Medicaid and SCHIP coverage. An important new finding from the study is that two-thirds of immigrant children become American citizens by the time they are 30 or older. Therefore, depriving immigrant children of health insurance coverage could jeopardize the health and productivity of future adult citizens.

Dr. Leighton Ku, professor of health policy at GW and author of the study, noted that “Restoring Medicaid and SCHIP coverage will not only improve the children’s health, but it will strengthen their ability to contribute to the nation and economy as adults. Children should not have to wait five years for health coverage.”

The study found that:

  • Insured immigrant children receive more primary and preventive health care than their uninsured counterparts and use the emergency room less. Insured immigrant children are nearly twice as likely to have seen a primary care doctor in the last year compared to those who are uninsured; furthermore, insured immigrant children are three times as likely to have preventive well-child visits as uninsured children.
  • The lack of Medicaid and SCHIP eligibility creates additional financial burdens for safety net health care providers at a time when the number of uninsured is climbing in communities across the nation. Recent legal immigrants who are ineligible for Medicaid or SCHIP coverage disproportionately seek care from safety net health care providers, which includes community health centers. This puts more pressure on already strained federal grant monies used by health centers to cover the uninsured.

“Health centers serve all members of their communities. Restoring eligibility for coverage to legal immigrants is essential to improving their access to services, and insuring the continued viability of the providers who care for them,” said Julio Bellber, president of the RCHN Community Health Foundation, which supported the study as well as ongoing health center research and scholarship through the Collaborative.

The report, “Restoring Medicaid and SCHIP Coverage to Legal Immigrant Children and Pregnant Women: Implications for Community Health and Health Care for Tomorrow’s Citizens” can be downloaded here.

About the RCHN Community Health Foundation
The RCHN Community Health Foundation (RCHN CHF) is a New York-based not-for-profit operating foundation dedicated to supporting and benefiting community health centers (CHCs) in New York state and nationally. The Foundation develops and supports programmatic and business initiatives related to community health center access, pharmacy and health information technology through strategic investment, research, outreach, education, and coalition building. For more information about RCHN CHF, contact Chief Operating Officer / EVP Feygele Jacobs at (212) 246-1122, ext. 712, or fjacobs@rchnfoundation.org, or visit www.rchnfoundation.org.

About The George Washington University Medical Center

The George Washington University Medical Center is an internationally recognized interdisciplinary academic health center that has consistently provided high-quality medical care in the Washington, DC, metropolitan area for 176 years. The Medical Center comprises the School of Medicine and Health Sciences, the 11th oldest medical school in the country; the School of Public Health and Health Services, the only such school in the nation’s capital; GW Hospital, jointly owned and operated by a partnership between The George Washington University and Universal Health Services, Inc.; and the GW Medical Faculty Associates, an independent faculty practice plan. For more information on GWUMC, visit www.gwumc.edu.