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Study: Immigrants Short-Changed by Health Insurance

June 23, 2009

New York, NY — With Congress looking at health care reform, a new study finds that one of three immigrants in New York is living without medical insurance coverage, and it says a big reason for that is that private insurance companies aren't doing all they could to reach out to those communities.

David Sandman, senior vice president of the New York State Health Foundation, says immigrants make up 28 percent of the state's uninsured population, and the proportion is even higher in New York City itself.

"It's clear that, with federal health reform efforts going on in Washington, private health insurance is going to remain a big part of the system, so this study is looking at how immigrants can also be more integrated into a private coverage system."

He says private insurers need to intensify their efforts to communicate with immigrants in their own languages. The study found that private companies are having mixed results in their current outreach. Sandman says some try to create special insurance products for the immigrant market, but the study found that "community credibility" was a better way to reach immigrant consumers in New York.

Some insurers try to reach New York immigrants by offering them stripped-down insurance plans with limited benefits at lower cost, according to study author Mark Scherzer, who is legislative counsel to New Yorkers for Accessible Health Coverage. He says that approach is shortsighted, especially when it comes to immigrants with disabilities or special health care needs.

"There are other ways to cut costs than to cut the benefits, and that would be of great value to people with serious illness and disability, if they actually need to use the benefits they've been enrolled for."

Scherzer says the state needs to develop a "connector" program that could connect New Yorkers to various types of insurance products, both public and private. He says in some cases it makes sense to split coverage, with some family members getting private insurance and other taking the public option.

The full report, "Connecting Immigrants to Commercial Health Coverage" is available online at:

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - NY