Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=220407
Story Retrieval Date: 7/29/2014 3:53:46 PM CST

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FANNY AND DAVID

Tanvi Misra/MEDILL

Fanny Lopez, 23, holding her 5-month-old son David, did not have prenatal medical coverage for three months while she was pregnant.


Pregnant women in Illinois without legal status face barriers to prenatal coverage

by Tanvi Misra
Apr 23, 2013


Fanny Lopez, 23, a public policy student living near Hyde Park, gave birth five months ago. For three months during her pregnancy, she had no prenatal health coverage. “I was thinking, we’re going to be without insurance for a few months, and what if I needed to see a doctor or something," Lopez said.

Lopez entered the U.S. when her family crossed the border from Mexico illegally 10 years ago. She became pregnant in February 2012 right after her husband, a U.S citizen, had returned from serving in Afghanistan. After his military health coverage expired and before the benefits from his new job started, Lopez’s pregnancy went uncovered.

“The timing was kind of weird,” Lopez said. “I remember that I was thinking where were we going to go, you know, in terms of care.”

Like many other women in Illinois who are living here without legal permission, Lopez fell through a crack in coverage due to misinformation, misconceptions and bureaucracy. Without state benefits, prenatal care is expensive. During the time when she was uninsured, Lopez paid $300 for an ultrasound. “That’s when I started to freak out, because I was like, that’s a lot of money,” she said.

Women who entered the country without legal permission are eligible to apply for two benefits under the All Kids program, which is run by the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services. The first is the Medicaid Presumptive Eligibility card, which offers immediate but temporary coverage to pregnant women. The other, the Moms & Babies program covers health care for pregnant women and their babies up to 60 days after they are born.

“That’s the thing, we didn’t know about that,” Lopez said, referring to the temporary Medicaid Presumptive Eligibility card.

According to Naomi Scheinerman of The Hastings Center, a research institute in Garrison, N.Y. that specializes in access to health care for those who entered the country illegally there is “a lack of patient information.”

“We’re not quite sure why,” said Scheinerman, a research assistant.

The Family Focus center, an Aurora-based organization that works with the Illinois Coalition for Immigration and Refugee Rights, helps patients who entered the country without legal permission. Migdalia Ballona, program coordinator at the organization, said that the lack of information is double-edged; a lot of health clinicians don’t know that immigrants who entered the country illegally are eligible for state benefits.

Lopez said she encountered uninformed caseworkers when she applied for the Moms & Babies coverage. “It was a travesty for that thing,” she said. “They were like no, you’re undocumented, you can’t get it.”

According to Ballona, misinformation deters many women from applying for these benefits.

“Sometimes, [health workers] tell them that they shouldn’t apply because it could affect them in the future if they wanted to become legal permanent residents,” she said, adding that women tend to go to the wrong sources for information about medical access.

Lopez said she searched for this information, but a lot of what she found was based on experiences of others.

“You have to look for the information yourself," she said. "It’s not readily available anywhere, to my understanding.” She adds that for a lot of other immigrant women, it’s worse because they don’t speak English and don’t know how to use the computer.

Another aspect that excludes these women is the inefficient chain of bureaucratic command. Sometimes the Medicaid Presumptive Eligibility card expires before the women are approved for the Moms & Babies benefits, Ballona said.

 

Lopez said, “When you go and you apply, it’s very bureaucratic; a lot of paperwork, a lot of waiting,”

Meanwhile, reactions to the immigration reform bill that senators of the so-called Gang of Eight revealed last week are still coming in.

"If you noticed in the bill, we don't even have access to health care," Lopez said.