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Thousands of immigrants in Illinois to lose health care coverage next month

Legislators listen to Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker deliver his annual budget address on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024, at the statehouse in Springfield, Ill.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Illinois legislators listen to Gov. J.B. Pritzker deliver his annual budget address on last month at the statehouse in Springfield, Ill.

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Changes to a pair of Illinois programs that offer health care coverage to undocumented — and some documented — residents will mean thousands of people stand to lose their health insurance.

The state announced late last week that eligibility requirements for the Healthcare Benefits for Immigrant Adults and Seniors programs will be changing. Residents who have been documented for fewer than five years will no longer be eligible for coverage.

And the state’s Department of Healthcare and Family Services (HFS) says annual redeterminations will begin starting April 1.

“The redetermination process ensures that those who are enrolled remain eligible for coverage,” HFS spokesperson Jamie Munks said in an email. “If an individual loses coverage through the redetermination process, it is because they no longer meet eligibility requirements, or they are required to respond or submit additional information to prove their continued eligibility, but they do not do so.”

Healthcare Benefits for Immigrant Seniors launched in 2020, providing coverage for seniors 65 and older who would qualify for subsidized health care coverage based on their income if it weren’t for their immigration status. Offerings expanded in 2022 with Healthcare Benefits for Immigrant Adults, serving younger people with the same services aged 42 to 64.

They’re Medicaid-style programs. But unlike Medicaid, which is paid for through a combination of state and federal money, HBIA and HBIS are mainly funded by the state because undocumented residents aren’t eligible for federal coverage.

HFS estimates 6,000 people will lose their insurance. Part of that comes from redetermination, but documented residents who are currently covered — those who have had a green card for fewer than five years and are not yet eligible for federal benefits — will be kicked out of the program effective May 1. “We propose to remove these people from the program because they are actually eligible for subsidies on the health insurance marketplace,” Dana Kelly, HFS’s chief of staff, told state lawmakers Tuesday.

The moves are part of continued attempts by the Pritzker administration to control costs. Enrollment has been paused since July 2023 for adults 42-64 and November 2023 for seniors 65 and older. Copays for many services have also been implemented. The governor’s proposed spending plan for the next fiscal year allocates less toward the programs than this year.

The department insists that people who find themselves without coverage May 1 will get help navigating the changes.

“HFS’ goal is to provide robust assistance during this process that meets the needs of affected customers,” HFS said in a statement. “The Department is working closely with [the Illinois Department of Insurance] to make sure Get Covered Illinois resources are deployed to support individuals who will be seeking coverage through the ACA Marketplace.”

Alex Degman is a statehouse reporter with WBEZ in Springfield, Illinois.