Health insurance guide for immigrants

Health insurance can help you pay for medical services. Learn about the different types of public and private health insurance for immigrants. Find information on how to apply.

What is health insurance?

Health insurance, or medical insurance, is a contract between you and the health insurance company. Covers some or all of your health care costs for a monthly payment. The monthly cost of the insurance you pay is called the premium .

Having health insurance may be referred to as covered or insured . Health insurance can protect you from having to pay large medical bills. It is often better to pay a premium each month than to suddenly get a huge bill from the hospital.

Health insurance plans typically pay for the following services: 

  • Medical visits and examinations
  • Laboratories, imaging and immunization
  • Mental health services 
  • Urgent care and emergency services
  • Prescribed medication 

Health insurance companies offer multiple plans for different premiums. Each plan has specific coverage and terms for a specific monthly premium. Some health insurance providers also pay for vision and dental care. 

Often the insurance company does not pay all expenses. You may have to pay a deductible when you get care. The deductible is the amount you have to pay before your insurance starts paying for your health care.

You may also have to make co-payments for some medical services and prescriptions. Each plan also specifies which doctors and healthcare facilities you can visit. 

How do I get health insurance?

In the United States, you can get health insurance by:

  • Government insurance programs (public health)
  • Your job with the help of your employer
  • Private health insurance that you buy yourself

Government health insurance programs 

Government health insurance programs provide assistance to people who cannot afford health insurance or who meet certain requirements. They are provided by the federal or state government. It can also be called a public health program.


Medicaid is a public health program offered by your state. The program provides insurance for the elderly, the disabled, children, pregnant women and low-income families. Some refugee families will enroll in Medicaid when they first arrive in the United States. 

Children’s health insurance program

The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) provides free or low-cost health coverage for children. This is for families who earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid. In some states, pregnant women are covered by the Children’s Health Insurance Program. 

Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program for Immigrants

Noncitizen immigrants are usually eligible for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program if they meet their state’s income and residency rules.

  • Green Card Holders (Lawful Permanent Resident) 
  • Refugees and asylum seekers 
  • Arrivals from Cuba/Haiti
  • Released on parole on humanitarian grounds 
  • Non-citizens, spouses, children or parents were beaten
  • Victims of trafficking and their spouses, children, siblings or parents 

Many eligible noncitizens, including green card holders, must wait 5 years after receiving qualifying immigration status before they can apply for Medicaid. Refugees and asylum seekers do not have to wait 5 years. In 21 states , children and pregnant women do not have to wait 5 years to get CAMIP coverage. 

Immigrants who are not legally in the United States or who are undocumented are generally not eligible for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Some states allow income-eligible people to apply for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program regardless of their immigration status. These include California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, and Washington.

Emergency Medicaid

Emergency Medicaid is available to immigrants who are not considered “eligible noncitizens” but meet all other state income and residency rules. Undocumented immigrants can get emergency medical assistance. Emergency Medicaid pays for emergency services, including hospitalization. 

You do not have to give your family’s immigration status or the people you live with. Learn more about government health coverage for immigrants .

Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program are not considered public charges unless they are used for long-term care in a public health facility, such as a nursing facility. Learn more about the General Charge Rule .

Medicare program

Medicare is a federal public health program that provides health coverage primarily to people age 65 or older. Medicare is also available to younger people with disabilities and people with end-stage kidney disease or Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS). US citizens and green card holders can apply for Medicare if they meet eligibility requirements.

There are several types of Medicare, including:

Part A: Hospital Insurance Part B: Medical InsurancePart D: Prescription Drugs

Part A premium is free for people who have paid Medicare taxes for at least 10 years. The total cost of Medicare varies depending on your income.

Women, Infants and Children Programme

The Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program helps children under age 5, pregnant women, and breastfeeding mothers from low-income families. The Women, Infants and Children Program focuses on nutrition and food supply and improving access to health and social care services. It is a health care program offered by your state.

Women and children with any immigration status, including undocumented immigrants, can apply for the Women, Infants, and Children program.

Medical insurance in the USA

Private health insurance

The majority of Americans have private health insurance coverage. More than half of the people living in the United States have private health insurance through their work. People who do not have employment-based insurance can purchase health insurance directly from the insurance company.

Workplace health insurance

Jobs that offer health insurance pay a large portion of health insurance costs. The employee pays part of the health insurance costs. Some offer different health plans. Employees can also choose to include their spouses and children in their health insurance plans at an additional cost.

In some circumstances when you leave your job, you can extend your coverage through a government plan called the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) . The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act is available for teams with 20 or more employees and only lasts for a short period. You may have to pay the entire insurance premium yourself. 

Health Insurance Marketplace (ACA)

The Health Insurance Marketplace is a government program that allows you to purchase private health insurance. It was created by the Affordable Care Act (also known as “Obamacare”) which requires most US citizens and legal residents to have health insurance. It looks at how much money you make to determine how much you can pay for insurance. You can search for insurance online or in person .

US citizens and current legal immigrants can use the health insurance marketplace. Undocumented immigrants are not eligible for health insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace. Unless they have DACA. Starting in November 2024, DACA recipients can apply for health insurance through and state-based marketplaces.

Non-citizens must have: 

  • Humanitarian status including temporary protected status, asylum seekers, CAT, trafficking victims or DACA
  • Valid nonimmigrant visas
  • Legal status through other laws (temporary resident status, LIFE Act, family unit members)

Health insurance companies 

You can also purchase health insurance directly from health insurance companies in your state . You have the right to purchase health insurance regardless of your immigration status. 

College medical insurance plans

Students can purchase health insurance through their colleges. You may have to enroll in a certain number of credits to apply for health insurance through your school. Contact your health center to find out your options.

Insurance alternatives 

If you do not have health insurance, there are health centers and clinics that offer free or low-cost medical care.

Health care providers are not required to ask you about your immigration status nor are they required to report it. You cannot be denied medical care because of your condition.Find help near you

Get legal help, English lessons, health clinics, housing support and more. Search a local map and list of services for immigrants in the USA using the FindHello app.

Looking for specific information?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button