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Introduction

The immigrant label puts one at a lot of problems, not only in the form of discrimination but also when it comes to access to health care.  Children from low-income immigrant families are less likely to visit a doctor as compared to their U.S-born counterparts even when they have insurance. A report on immigration policy revealed that adult immigrants were less likely to use emergency rooms as compared to their low-income native counterparts. The study found that 44 percent of immigrant children with health insurance visited the doctor as compared to 69 percent of native children with insurance. Only 62 percent of immigrant children with public coverage visited the doctor compared to 71.5 percent of native children with similar cover. Regardless of whether or not the immigrant children were insured, the report found that a mere 47 percent of them visited the doctor compared to 69 percent of American children according to Wafula & Snipes (2013). These worrying statistics paint a clear picture of the health issues that immigrants are faced with. With this in mind, I became curious to find out why these families were going through such diverse health challenges in a country with advanced health care facilities.

All citizens are faced with the problem of high medical costs as well as diminishing health insurance coverage. This problem is even more pronounced among immigrant families. The majority of these immigrants do not have medical insurance cover, implying that they will have to dig into their pockets to cover their medical bills. Americans have employer-sponsored insurance to cover for their medical needs, a privilege which is not available to the immigrants. Should these immigrants accept these employer insurance offers, they have to meet some of the costs in the form of employee premiums and other cost sharing mechanisms. As such, the majority of these families will be discouraged from taking a medical insurance cover as it would mean that their already meager earnings will diminish even more. To save on costs, employers offer jobs to immigrants on contract or part-time basis. In so doing, they will not be obliged to pay them benefits.  Reports have shown that a mere 21 percent of the part time and contract workers (which is composed mainly of immigrants) had insurance compared to 74 percent of their fully hired counterparts.

The majority of citizens in the US who earn low incomes are covered by the Medicaid insurance program. This program is not, however, eligible for all immigrants. The immigrant families fear that enrolling in these programs might jeopardize their chances of being American citizens and risk being deported should their immigrant status be revealed. This further explains why immigrant families keep battling with numerous health challenges.

Language barrier is also a major contributor to the low number of immigrants having access to medical care and health insurance. Some of these immigrants cannot fluently communicate in English, and if they perceive that they might encounter difficulties in explaining their medical condition to a nurse or a doctor, they will be discouraged from seeking medical assistance.  Approximately 30 percent of foreign-born immigrants do not understand the English language or cannot speak it well.  Furthermore, immigrant families carry with them different perceptions and stereotypes regarding health care. Some of these families, for instance, stigmatize those who seek for medical attention for mental problems. Some, on the other hand, do not appreciate the importance of preventative health care, only seeking medical help when their conditions have escalated to chronic levels.

I once worked with a Latino colleague at a grocery store. The pay was not necessarily pleasant considering I had a few papers which showed my academic grades were quite impressive. My friend rarely associated with fellow employees, and most of the time he was a solitary, seemingly lonely figure. He was always aloof and disinterested in any form of friendship. With time, however, I managed to create a rapport with him, and we soon became good friends. We shared a bit of our backgrounds, and that is when I realized he was an immigrant father of two. His family had grown through biting poverty and had come to the land of opportunities to rewrite his story. He wanted to give his children the best life possible, totally different from the one he had lived when he was young. Unfortunately, he became sick, and his attendance became erratic, and his health deteriorated. I encouraged him to seek medical help, but he said he would not, because he feared that his immigrant status would be revealed, and he risked being deported, jeopardizing the future of his two children.

Immigrant families will continue facing numerous health challenges if wide-reaching reforms are not undertaken in the health sector to make health care provision all inclusive. Much as there are numerous challenges in the health sector, immigrants are the ones who are acutely affected, as their status make them ineligible to enjoy most benefits that are enjoyed by the natives. The mere status of being an immigrant denies them access to many health opportunities enjoyed by regular citizens.

References

Wafula, E. & Snipes, S. (2013). Barriers to Health Care Access Faced by Black Immigrants in the US: Theoretical Considerations and Recommendations. Journal Of Immigrant And Minority Health, 16(4), 689-698. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10903-013-9898-1

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