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Respuestas 2021: For the Immigrant Community, Medical Care Access is as Pressing as Ever

While financial assistance programs for immigrants play a big part in mitigating the financial burdens brought on by the pandemic, there is no substitute for accessible medical care, which has never been more necessary for the community.

By Sarah Cartagena, Senior Policy Analyst; and Louisa Silverman, Immigration & Housing Intern

Para leer este artículo de La Raza en español, haga clic aquí.

Even before the pandemic began, medical care was largely inaccessible for many immigrant communities in Illinois. Now, with the added challenges of COVID-19, medical care is all the more difficult to come by and all the more necessary.

While existing emergency financial assistance programs such as rental and utility assistance are undoubtedly essential, community service providers say there is still a huge gap in community need: medical assistance.

Araceli Liu, Community Outreach Coordinator with Centro de Información, and Michelle Ramirez, Bilingual Case Specialist at Family Focus Cicero, stress the need for increased financial assistance for medical care. They say that lost income and other financial burdens due to COVID-19 have threatened their community members’ ability to afford necessary, life-sustaining medical treatments.

Although Illinois has several low-cost health centers and medical clinics, they are not always a viable option for those with emergent medical needs due to long wait times and inaccessible locations.

The Latino Policy Forum held a community discussion on this issue. One participant was told that she would have to wait 12 months to have an appointment at a low-cost dental clinic. After enduring severe pain for several months and ultimately losing a tooth due to the dental issue, she had to see a dentist outside of the low-cost clinic and is now struggling to pay off the medical bill.

Community members report that they are also struggling to pay for medical care to address long-term effects of COVID-19. One participant reported that she has been unable to return to work for months due to lingering COVID-19 symptoms. She said that she has been experiencing increasingly severe symptoms, but the available financial assistance for hospital visits is so limited that she has to wait several more months to even find out if she qualifies.

Meanwhile, Ramirez reports that community members are experiencing increasing numbers of health problems as physical manifestations of mental stress. She explained that the distress and mental anguish brought about by COVID-19 has led to strokes and other stress-induced health complications in her community.

Community members and service providers both emphasized the need for improved medical coverage and medical attention for immigrants in Illinois.

Illinois became the first state in the nation to offer public health coverage to low-income immigrants 65 years and older, including the undocumented state-funded health coverage last year through the Health Benefits for Immigrant Seniors program. Thanks to continued advocacy efforts from community-based organizations and coalitions such as Healthy Illinois, the State of Illinois will expand this state-funded healthcare to immigrants 55 years and older by early 2022.

Although this is a great program for some, it still excludes many individuals, namely those who are younger than 55 and who don’t meet the income requirement.

Service providers are further advocating for increased medical financial assistance open to all immigrants, including assistance for special-needs care. They also are recommending increased funding for free and low-cost clinics and staffing so that the clinics can serve communities in a variety of neighborhoods on a realistic timeline.

To see if you are eligible for the Health Benefits for Immigrant Seniors, please visit:



Community Based Organizations Serving Immigrants:



Family Focus Nuestra Familia Cicero:



Centro de Información:



Health Benefits for Immigrant Seniors:


“Respuestas 2021” is a series of weekly articles about the needs of the Latino and immigrant community arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, based on community discussions conducted by the Latino Policy Forum.