De Blasio’s Health Care Program, a Ray of Hope for Immigrants?

The NYC Care program will launch this summer in the Bronx. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

Every resident of New York City, including thousands of undocumented immigrants, will have guaranteed access to universal health insurance beginning this summer, (…) announced Mayor Bill de Blasio at the unveiling of the NYC Care program. According to a press release from the Mayor’s Office,”the plan will serve the 600,000 New Yorkers without insurance by strengthening NYC’s public health insurance option, MetroPlus, and guaranteeing anyone ineligible for insurance – including undocumented New Yorkers – has direct access to NYC Health + Hospitals’ physicians, pharmacies and mental health and substance abuse services through a new program called NYC Care. All services will be affordable on a sliding scale.”

(…) This is good news to José Acuello, a Brazilian immigrant who has lived undocumented and uninsured in New York City for 14 years. He is close to going blind in his left eye because he lacks health insurance or the financial resources to get surgery for the cataracts he has endured for years.

“This is good for people like me who go through great difficulty to get health care. I went to a hospital and they asked for $10,000 for the cataract treatment. Of course, I could not afford it,” said the Minas Gerais native.

“I have not had health insurance since 2005, and I recently became unemployed because the construction and debris removal company where I worked went out of business. (…) Like many people who live here, I don’t know how I would pay for my medical bills if I had an emergency,” said Acuello, who lives in Queens.

(…) Like Mayor de Blasio, City Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot referred to health care as “a right for all, not a privilege for only those who can afford care.”

Cindy Pérez, a New Yorker of Puerto Rican descent, agreed. Even though she gets health insurance from her employer, she said she knows many people in her community who are unable to pay for insurance or are not eligible because they lack legal resident status.

“This is something that should be given to everyone, because many people need health insurance. It should be a universal right,” said the Brooklyn native born of Puerto Rican parents. (…)

Rebecca Telzak, health programs director for Make the Road New York, said: “Immigrants in particular face enormous barriers to obtain health care, and we still have to see significant action at the state and federal levels to guarantee access to coverage for the uninsured. We are hoping with great interest to work with Mayor de Blasio to implement NYC Care.” (…)

Manuel Castro, executive director of New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE), which has organized day laborers, said that affordable and quality medical assistance for immigrant workers is crucial to the prosperity of the city. “No one knows this more than the members of NICE, who work closely with some of the most at-risk and unregulated sectors of our economy, including construction and domestic work.”

(…)

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