Illinois recently expanded a state-run program that provides healthcare coverage to include noncitizen immigrants who are over age 65 and are not eligible for benefits under other programs (e.g., Medicare and Medicaid). The program will start accepting applicants in December 2020.
Illinois is the first state in the country to extend healthcare benefits for elderly noncitizen immigrants. The program was passed as part of a state budget earlier this year. However, the program did not take effect for several months. The program is projected to cost approximately $5 million annually. These costs are more than offset, argue proponents of the expansion, by the approximately $758 million a year noncitizen immigrants pay in state and local taxes.
According to a study conducted by Rush University Medical Center, the noncitizen immigrant population of Illinois who do not have access to healthcare is expected to grow over the next ten years. Advocates of the expansion, including the Illinois Legislative Latino Caucus, argue that this means the state needs to be proactive in bringing these residents under medical coverage.
A recent study conducted by Illinois found that uninsured older people who contract the coronavirus risk more severe complications, which results in increased costs for every party involved. Therefore, the natural goal should be to expand healthcare coverage to minimize these unexpected balloon-like expenses.
Issues Revealed by Coronavirus
By now it is a cliché that the coronavirus pandemic is exposing systemic societal failures. One of those failures is gaps in the healthcare system. The Affordable Care Act expanded access to healthcare to a level not seen since the Great Society programs under Lyndon Johnson. However, the effectiveness of the ACA is hampered by states refusing to accept the Medicaid expansion (Illinois is part of the Medicaid expansion). It was further hampered because it did not provide a mechanism for noncitizen immigrants to access healthcare if they cannot use other federal programs.
The expansion program enacted by Illinois this year will close one of those gaps revealed by the coronavirus pandemic. It is the first program in the country to extend healthcare coverage to undocumented immigrants. Providing healthcare to noncitizen immigrants is cheaper over time for hospitals and the government because it allows these individuals to get preventative care which is less costly than emergency intervention.