Expansion of Illinois’ Affordable Health Care Program Urged by Immigrants and Advocates

Alfred Palafox, a 28-year-old man from Mexico who now lives in Evergreen Park, imagines that having health insurance would enable him to see the world more clearly. Unfortunately, Palafox is not a U.S. citizen, and he is 10 years old, making him ineligible for the state’s affordable health care program. As a result, his health has deteriorated due to programs that exclude non-citizens, and his vision has worsened to the point where surgery is no longer an option. Palafox has not had a medical check-up, and the stress of his status has caused burnout, which he is unable to deal with.

Palafox reflects on how different his life might have been if he had been covered and is one of many non-citizens hoping for the state to expand access to its programs for non-citizens aged 19 to 41. He recalls how difficult school was for him because his parents had to choose between tuition fees and his own health. Palafox had no access to mental health care when he became burnt out from college and his job. He struggled alone, wanting to spare his parents the pain he was going through.

Now Palafox works as an organizer for his favorite Southwest organizing project, Not really. When the state eventually expands insurance access, he plans to visit an optometrist, undergo regular checkups, and talk to a therapist. The bill being considered would help an estimated 115,000 noncitizens in Illinois. Health care providers believe it would also help improve the health conditions of these marginalized individuals.

For example, Natalie Raghu, medical director for advanced care providers at the Erie Family Health Center, spoke at a rally in support of expanding access to the state’s affordable health insurance program. She believes that offering health care to non-citizens aged 19 to 41 regardless of their immigration status would positively impact society. Illinois already offers public health insurance to noncitizens aged 65 and above, with access expanded to noncitizens aged 42 and above in 2022.

Raghu notes that these expansions have resulted in more frequent routine check-ups, fewer emergency room visits, and earlier diagnosis of serious health problems. She cites the importance of catching health problems early to avoid complex treatments. Mexican immigrant Veronica Cisneros agrees that having access to this type of help would make a significant difference. Cisneros, who recently obtained state coverage thanks to last year’s insurance expansion, found a lump in her breast and had an examination earlier this year.

Cisneros reflects on how scary it was to be uninsured when the lump was discovered. She lost her job at the cleaning company a few years ago, leaving her uninsured. She is awaiting her test results but remains optimistic. In 2015, Cisneros lost a dear friend to cancer during her pregnancy, and she wonders if having access to insurance could have made a difference in her friend’s fate.

Journalist Michael Loria, who was sent to Chicago as part of the Report for America program, concludes the article by noting his role as a staff reporter for The Sun Times.

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