Louisiana’s Medicaid program provides life-sustaining health coverage for Louisiana residents who couldn’t otherwise afford the cost of care, including children from low- and moderate-income families.
In recent years, however, Louisiana has seen declines in child health coverage. Though Louisiana’s child uninsured rate hit a historic low of 3.1% in 2017, it has been steadily increasing since then, with disparities among children of different races. And coverage gaps among Latinx families have remained alarmingly high. In Louisiana, 13.4% of Latinx children were uninsured in 2019, compared with 3.8% of non-Latinx children. Now, thanks to a change in state Medicaid policy, some children who live in Louisiana and are in a court process on their pathway to citizenship can also get health coverage through Medicaid depending on their immigration status.
Medicaid rules generally require many eligible immigrants to be in the country for five years before they can get health coverage through the program. But states also have the option to let lawfully residing immigrant children access the program immediately. This offers thousands of Louisiana kids Medicaid coverage, ensuring that regular visits to the doctor remain affordable as they grow. In February 2019, the Louisiana Department of Health took up that option, eliminating the 5-year bar for eligible immigrant children. Children eligible under this rule still have to meet other eligibility standards, but they no longer have to wait five years after their arrival in order to get health coverage and access to lifesaving care.
After years of anti-immigrant rhetoric, many immigrants in mixed-status families or people on their pathway to citizenship may still hesitate to apply for benefits. Policy change is an important step to closing the coverage gap for many Louisiana immigrant families, but increased reassurance and welcoming messages from advocates and the state Medicaid program are equally needed to successfully promote access to eligible individuals and families.
By Courtney Foster