COVID-19 Will Not Affect Public Charge Status for Immigrant Patients
By Sean Price


If you care for immigrant patients who are affected by the "public charge" rule – which limits access to green cards for immigrants who receive Medicaid and other public benefits – remind them they can seek all types of medical care for COVID-19 without jeopardizing their immigration status, according to a statement issued by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

The agency issued a notice encouraging all immigrants with symptoms of COVID-19 – such as fever, cough, and shortness of breath – to "seek necessary medical treatment or preventive services. Such treatment or preventive services will not negatively affect any alien as part of a future public charge analysis."

Vaccination tied to COVID-19 – if a vaccine becomes available – also will not be "part of a public charge inadmissibility determination," the agency said.

The public charge rule was revised in 2019 to alter the factors immigration officials use to determine whether a legal immigrant will be a “public charge” – someone who depends primarily on the government for assistance. Before the change, immigration officials could consider whether a green card applicant used cash assistance programs or long-term institutional care. The rule change added the use of health care, nutrition, and housing services.

The rule change directly affected 383,000 green card holders and applicants nationwide, according to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). However, the nationwide lobbying firm Manatt estimates that the rule affects tens of millions more by deterring immigrants and their American-born children from using health care and other services for which they are eligible.

The Texas Medical Association opposed the revision on the grounds that it would scare immigrants from seeking needed medical care.

"Adoption of the rule will worsen Texas’ sky-high rate of uninsured, already the highest in the country, and immeasurably harm the health and well-being of Texas and Texans," said then-TMA President Doug Curran, MD. He also pointed out that a higher rate of uninsured would "jeopardize the financial health of thousands of physician practices."

Last Updated On

March 26, 2020

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Sean Price


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Sean Price is a reporter for Texas Medicine and Texas Medicine Today. He grew up in Fort Worth and graduated from the University of Texas at Austin. He's worked as an award-winning writer and editor for a variety of national magazine, book, and website publishers in New York and Washington. He's also helped produce Texas-based marketing campaigns designed to promote public health. Sean lives in Austin and enjoys hiking, photography, and spending time with his wife and two sons.

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