For a country that prides itself on equal rights for all, having allowed gay marriage, liberal gun ownership and assisted suicide, it has overlooked one significant area: the same health care benefits for US citizens and immigrants alike.

Americans have Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act that provides comprehensive health care to US citizens and their families. Lawful permanent residents (LPR,) or legal immigrants who have the option to apply for citizenship, are also entitled to the Obamacare policy.

The category of immigrants differs in definition by government agency. The US Department of Homeland Security classifies immigrants as aliens who are lawful permanent residents of the US, while the Immigration and Nationality Act has a broader definition: an immigrant is any alien living in the US. This will include foreign students, aliens with valid worker visas and the undocumented immigrants, those who entered the US on a valid visa and did not leave when the visa expired. Strictly speaking, foreign students and those on worker’s visa are non-immigrants but most universities and colleges require their students to get insurance coverage and employees may be covered by the company’s health insurance plan.


Undocumented immigrants, also derisively called “illegal aliens,” are, by law, not entitled to healthcare aid from the government. They cannot shop at the Health Insurance Marketplace for minimum essential coverage nor can they qualify for federal subsidies and cost assistance. They also are not qualified for Medicare, Medicaid and Child Health Insurance Program (CHIP.)Their illegal alien status means they are not “lawfully present” in the country. Official records state that there are more than 11 million undocumented immigrants in 2014, although presidential aspirant Trump claims the actual figure is 30 to 34 million.

The health care option available for unauthorized foreigners living in the US is limited to emergency medical care. Fortunately, there are community health clinics and non-profit organizations they can turn to. Some local governments and states have also created their own programs to help these unregistered foreigners. Using state funds, the Healthy Kids program in San Francisco is for the benefit of uninsured children below 19 years old, including children of undocumented immigrants. New York uses its own funds to provide Medicaid to a certain group of immigrants who are known to Immigration and are not in the list for deportation. The state court has ruled that prohibiting their access to this social health care program violates the equal protection clause of the constitution.

Yet there are instances when persons who are undocumented receive government benefits such as loans, disability compensation, tax credits and other usually off-limits assistance. These are the illegal aliens who have given birth to children during their stay in the US, making these kids US citizens by law. As parents, they are in the lowest priority for deportation, since that would mean breaking up the family. The family, now with US citizens as members, qualifies for food stamps and WIC, benefits for low-income families. Spouses and children of lawful permanent residents are also in the category of the illegal status if they have overstayed their visit to the LPR and are still in the process of applying for a green card.

All is not lost for the undocumented aliens, though. They have other ways to obtain healthcare coverage. But better still, if they seek legal advice, they can gain lawful permanent resident status in the land of milk and honey.

For young people in college, most schools have their own health insurance policy that are affordable and do not ask for immigration status from the student. The schools also accept coverage from other insurance companies.

For foreigners who are neither LPRs nor citizens but are in the “deferred action” category, work permits may be issued and if the company they are working for has health insurance coverage for its employees, the issue of un-insured status is resolved.

Private health insurance bought directly from the insurance company is available for everyone who can afford them, including unauthorized immigrants. This is an expensive option and the insured alien cannot avail of government subsidies to aid in paying for coverage.

California, the state with the largest number of unauthorized immigrants, created low-cost medical care for the poor, notwithstanding immigration status. The Medi-Cal coverage includes emergency treatment, pregnancy-related care and, in some cases, long-term care.