How to Access Health Services For Undocumented Immigrants in California and New York

We know that having access to health care services is one of the keys to building a stable, healthy life, free of the anxiety illness and injury can bring. Unfortunately many undocumented immigrants in the United States lack this important resource.

Fortunately, the state of California now offers limited medical insurance to children and seniors, regardless of their immigration status. In New York City, immigrants can rely on a health care system for undocumented residents. To protect the health of their population, both places have taken definitive steps to extend health care services and offer them to the undocumented population that need it.

In this article you’ll find information on the medical service options that are available to you in California and New York City.

The Health Care System in The United States

Presently, the US health care system is a combination of public and private services. It does not provide universal coverage for everyone who resides in the country. The US Census Office estimates that in 2020, 28 million people in this country went without health insurance.

For those who qualify, their health care coverage options currently include:

Medical Attention Options For Undocumented Immigrants

Since public health insurance plans only cover citizens or legal residents of the United States, undocumented immigrants have limited health care options.

Community health centers

Community health centers are a good resource that provide medical services to the general public, no matter what their immigration status may be. By using the community migrant health center directory, you can find a list of medical services that are available near you. Some of these centers are free, while others offer low-cost service. We recommend calling ahead of time to schedule an appointment and get more information about pricing.

In case of emergency

In case of hospital emergencies, it’s important to know that the law states that all hospitals must provide the necessary detection tests and, if applicable, appropriate treatment as needed or transfer to another medical institution.

Medicaid also covers the costs of emergency services for undocumented individuals who meet all the other eligibility requirements, besides legal residence. This includes COVID-19 treatment, because the government considers the pandemic as a health emergency. At the same time, the Family First Act covers the costs of Coronavirus tests for anyone who doesn’t have health insurance. And the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officially declared equal access to vaccines regardless of immigration status. 


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In the state of California, undocumented immigrants don’t qualify for the state insurance market. This market is known as Covered California

However, the state does have a degree of coverage to provide medical care for certain groups. The following is a summary of the groups who can benefit from these services.

Who can benefit from California's health care support?

According to Covered California’s information for immigrants, undocumented persons who reside in the state can qualify for Medi-Cal. This is the state-sponsored insurance plan for low-income individuals who meet any of the following requirements:

Keep in mind: In 2021, governor Gavin Newsom signed the older adult expansion for the Medi-Cal program. Prior to this expansion, people over the age of 65 could qualify to receive emergency medical care only. Starting May 2022, people over the age of 50 who are considered low-income will have access to full Medi-Cal coverage with complete privacy on their immigration status. 

What type of coverage does California provide for undocumented immigrants?

According to the Medical Assistance Programs for Immigrants in Various States table, which was published by the National Immigration Law Center, the state covers the following medical services for undocumented immigrants:

  • Prenatal care
  • Long-term care 
  • Breast cancer treatments
  • Cervix cancer treatment
  • Up to 12 months of postpartum care for individuals with certain medical conditions

How to enroll

There are several ways to request Medi-Cal services:

New York City

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Thanks to the NYC Care program, the city of New York offers medical care to anyone who doesn’t qualify or cannot pay for medical insurance. Although this is not an insurance plan, NYC Care offers preventive care, regular medical visits, and access to medication. NYC Care also offers translation services in person or over the phone. They also send you health care correspondence in your preferred language.

NYC Care is a free program without any monthly fees or membership costs to its members. Their medical service fees are reduced and based on a sliding scale that depends on your income, as well as the number of people in your household. 

Who does NYC Care benefit?

NYC Care is a health program that covers adults, children, and families who are not eligible for New York State of Health, which is the state-sponsored program. To qualify, you must:

  • Have been living in New York City during six or more months
  • Prove that you are not eligible for other health insurance plans offered by the state
  • Be unable to afford private health insurance

Keep in mind: With NYC Care, your information is always confidential and the program won’t register or report your status to immigration authorities.

What coverage does NYC Care offer undocumented immigrants?

Through the NYC Health+ Hospitals network, NYC Care is a program that offers:

  • A membership card
  • The opportunity to choose your primary health care provider
  • Preventive care
  • Routine exams
  • Mental health support
  • Substance abuse services
  • Low-cost prescription medication
  • Access to social workers, pharmacists, and nutritionists

On top of providing quality medical care, the program also offers access to client service representatives who can answer your questions in Spanish or your preferred language. For more information about the program’s benefits, you can review the NYC Member Handbook.

How to enroll

There are several ways for you to enroll for NYC Care:

When applying, you will also have to present certain documents along with your completed form. These documents may include:

  • ID
  • Proof of income
  • Proof of home address

If you have already requested medical insurance through a different organization and were denied due to ineligibility, let your NYC Care representative know. This previous determination could speed up your application process to the NYC Care program. During the process, you’ll also be asked to confirm that you have been living in New York City for six months or more.

Are there similar plans in other states?

Medicaid and CHIP are federal programs that guarantee health care to pregnant women and children, regardless of their immigration status. The National Immigration Law Center states that there are certain state-sponsored programs that use their own funding to provide local health care services to immigrants.

Although these programs are not as comprehensive as the systems that are already in place in California or New York City, these medical attention centers can provide important care that can help you stay healthy. Some may be free, while others may be provided at a low cost. Before scheduling an appointment, remember to ask about the cost of medical care that these centers provide.

SABEResPODER can help you take care of your health! 

With your PODERsalud membership, you can access medical care and consultations with certified doctors from the comfort of your own home. You’ll enjoy peace of mind knowing that your health and the health of your loved ones is taken care of. Try it today!