State Officials Weighing Emergency Medicaid Services for Undocumented Immigrants

Jun 15, 2020

Undocumented immigrants are being hit hard by the COVID-19 health crisis, and access to health care is a major stumbling block for many. But, Virginia could take action to increase availability of testing and treatment.

A handful of states have made emergency Medicaid services available for undocumented immigrants to receive testing and treatment for COVID-19, an effort to make sure low-income people get tested and treated to stop the spread of the virus. So far Virginia is not one of those states.

Freddy Mejia at the Commonwealth Institute says Governor Ralph Northam should take action to make sure testing and treatment are available to undocumented immigrants through emergency Medicaid. 

“It really provides, one, a treatment option for the undocumented community," he explains. "But also makes sure that folks aren’t unknowingly spreading the virus when they go to work.”

Credit CDC

Kelly Whitener at Georgetown University says yes money is involved, and it would cost more to provide testing and treatment for COVID-19 to undocumented immigrants. But, she says, it’s worth it. 

“This is an easy way that states can expand access to needed treatment and services," says Whitener. "And in a pandemic it’s really important that everybody have access to care in order to protect the whole community.”

Low-income undocumented immigrants already qualify for some emergency Medicaid services, like if someone has a heart attack or breaks a bone. But so far, Virginia is not one of the states that has made it clear to providers that COVID-19 testing and treatment is covered.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.