Immigrants baffled by HealthCare.gov lapse
Nov. 19, 2014
WASHINGTON (AP) — HealthCare.gov is working better, but immigrants are running into what looks like an obvious slip-up.
Call it the green card glitch: The website has no clear path to upload the government identification document that shows they are legal U.S. residents, and entitled to benefits under President Barack Obama's health care law.
It's a baffling omission, say consumers and counselors assisting with this year's sign-up drive.
"It doesn't list the green card as an option to upload," said Elizabeth Colvin of Foundation Communities, an Austin, Texas, group that serves low-income people, including many immigrants. There's a way to upload copies of other types of documentation, Colvin said, but not green cards.
"The limited list of documents is confusing people and needs to be updated to include all accepted documents to verify identity," she added.
Administration spokesman Aaron Albright said a fix is in the works. The issue does not affect all applications from immigrants, he said, but certain cases where eligibility is unclear.
"We are working to make it clear that consumers with any type of immigration issue can upload any form that is requested, including a copy of their green card," said Albright.
That can't happen fast enough, said Angel Padilla, health policy analyst for the National Immigration Law Center. "These are the same type of glitches that immigrant families encountered last year during the first open enrollment."
Reaching immigrants, particularly Hispanics and Asians, is a priority as the administration seeks to increase the number of people signed up for subsidized private health insurance through federal and state exchanges. Latinos are the largest pool of immigrant applicants, and many hesitated to sign up last time.
A total of about 7 million people are now enrolled, and Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell has set a target of 9.1 million for 2015. Though that would represent a 30 percent enrollment increase, it's well below the 13 million that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office had forecast for 2015. The markets are for people who don't have access to coverage on the job.
Compared with last year's website dysfunction, the green card glitch is just an irritant, something that requires extra effort from certain applicants and that may cause additional anxiety.
"Last year, people were getting kicked out; the system was constantly being shut down," said Colvin. "We welcome the changes and improvements."
Immigrants can enter their green card number on the website. But what happens next is creating confusion.
Some applicants say they have been told by the HealthCare.gov call center to mail in copies of their green cards. That's a worry, since there have been widespread complaints that documents sent in the mail for this year's coverage got lost.
Some people are uploading green cards anyway under website labels for other types of documentation, and hoping the government will notice.
It's not the only way that immigrants will have to jump through hoops to get covered.
HealthCare.gov's new, simpler online application cut 76 screens down to 16 for most consumers. But it can't be used by legal immigrants and naturalized U.S. citizens because of extra steps required for verification.
While immigrants living in the country illegally cannot get coverage under the law, millions who are lawfully present are entitled to benefits.
About half of Latino adults were born abroad, according to research from the Pew Hispanic Center. Of those who have become U.S. citizens, 21 percent lack health insurance, well above the national uninsured rate of 13 percent.
Burwell has been traveling this week to promote the new sign-up period, including stops in two immigrant-rich states, Florida and Texas, which are among the 37 served by the federal website. She also tweeted that Spanish-speaking representatives at HealthCare.gov's call center got 20,000 calls over the weekend.
Sign-up season runs through Feb. 15.