An estimated 398,000 undocumented immigrants currently live in Georgia, according to a report released Thursday by The Migration Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., and most of them lack health insurance.
Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett counties were named in the report as having the highest population of undocumented immigrants in the state.
The report found that 76 percent of all undocumented individuals in Georgia are uninsured.
While Hall County’s population of undocumented immigrants didn’t rank in the top four in terms of density, local officials say the community is still better equipped than most to serve an uninsured population of any size.
“We accept anyone regardless of documentation, whatever papers they may have,” said Cheryl Christian, executive director of Good News Clinics on Pine Street. “The reason we do that is we feel like everyone needs access to health care if we’re going to have a healthy community overall.”
Patients who visit Good News Clinics are not asked questions about their immigration status.
“There’s probably a significant number in community who may or may not be documented, so in our clinic we are going by if you’re a Hall County resident, if your household income is within 150 percent of the federal poverty level and if you do not have health insurance or access to health insurance,” Christian said.
The Clinics provide free medical care to thosAgencies offer aid for uninsured immigrantse who qualify, thanks to medical professionals who volunteer, 39 physicians and 40 dentists in all.
The clinics also are affiliated with the United Way, local businesses and churches which all serve as sources of support.
Recent updates to health care law, including the Affordable Care Act, haven’t changed an undocumented individual’s ability to obtain health insurance. But undocumented individuals aren’t the only ones struggling to get health insurance, even after passage of the ACA.
“There are a lot of misconceptions with the Affordable Care Act and the health exchanges, that everyone will have access to insurance, but you have to have at least 100 percent of the federal poverty rate as income (to apply),” Christian said. “Anyone who makes less than 100 percent of the federal poverty level, they can’t even apply for health insurance through the health exchange.”
Some undocumented immigrants are eligible for Emergency Medicaid if they meet the low income requirement. Emergency Medicaid is not a full coverage plan; it covers a portion of some medical expenditures on a case-by-case basis.
When federal programs fail, it often falls to local organizations to pick up the slack.
Mary Mauricio runs the Latin American Ministries Program in Gainesville, a ministry that focuses on helping local abused or neglected youth. In all her time working with the local Latino community, Mauricio has only run across an undocumented youth only once.
“We ran into one, but we referred them to a church,” Mauricio said.
According to Mauricio, “some of the Hispanic churches” in Gainesville make it their mission to find health care for undocumented individuals.
Even among the documented families and children that participate in LAMP’s youth programs, Mauricio makes sure anyone without insurance knows what will happen in the event of an emergency.
“I just tell the parents they have to pay for it if we have an emergency or if they have to go to the doctor,” Mauricio said. “So far, thank God, we haven’t had to.”