Six months ago, Congress approved President Obama’s Universal Health Care bill by a 219 to 212 margin.
Fast forward to October, little appears to have changed since the historic law came into effect, according to immigrant advocates.
A large part of the population, many immigrants who live below the poverty line were supposed to be among 32 million Americans to benefit from the Health Care Reform. However, with so many changes coming into effect many Americans are still uninformed, unaware and more importantly – uninsured.
“The reform in my understanding is nothing more than fancy words put together,” said Jose Toval, 25, who is uninsured. “I hear little things about it here and there, but nothing in plain English. No wonder so many immigrants are afraid to even look into it. The language barrier builds a wall between the reform and the people.”
According to The New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC) and its Immigrant Health Access and Advocacy Collaborative, many positive changes have taken place, but immigrants are getting the shorter end of the stick.
Immigrants in the state of New York have access to limited information about the reform, in an effort to bridge the communication gap the NYIC has launched the Immigrants and Health Care Reform Outreach & Education Campaign, which aims to educate the community about the different low cost private insurance and health care options available to them.
“More than ever, there’s a need in immigrant communities for good information, and that information will best be conveyed by trusted sources within the community, who speak their language and understand their culture,” said Jenny Rejeske, director of health advocacy at the New York Immigration Coalition.
Toval agrees with Rejeske, but feels that there has not been a true effort to inform the public about the reform and what it means for them.
“People fear what they don’t understand,” Toval said. “We ask ourselves if we can truly afford to see a doctor, if not then why bother looking into it.”
Like many New Yorkers, a number of Queens residents are not aware of the benefits they are entitled to under the new health care reform and how to access these benefits.
According to the a study by the Common Wealth Fund in 2000, Queens had the highest percentage of uninsured New Yorkers between the ages of 18-64 with a rate of 33 percent. Western Queens had the largest number of uninsured individuals. And in the Elmhurst area, more residents were born outside of the United States than any other neighborhood in New York City, and the majority had no access to health care.
Toval lives his mom Flor, 54, his father and six siblings in Jamaica. Flor has health insurance, but that was not always the case. Years ago, she applied for Medicaid, but was denied because according to the public insurance rules she made too much money – however, her job did not have insurance benefits.
That all changed when she suffered a massive heart attack three years ago and had to stop working. She re-applied for Medicaid and received full benefits.
“Being insured is important,” Flor said. “Everyone should have some level of access to health insurance regardless of income or immigration status. Sadly, many of us wait for a tragedy to strike before we do anything about getting it.”