Undocumented immigrants typically have few health care options beyond the emergency room, but a little-known loophole could help many of them. NY1's Erin Billups filed the following report.
In 2009 Patricia Chadband was in the U.S. for her annual visit with her children. But she had to cancel her return trip home to Trinidad when her kidneys failed.
"I was taking my meds and I was doing my exercise and...'Your kidney is not working.' Well I swear, I would have died by then. Just hearing that," she recalls.
She's been in the U.S. ever since, getting care through Emergency Medicaid as she waits for a green card.
While the assistance gave her access to dialysis, saving her life, there are limitations.
"It only covers care for an emergency situation, which is very specifically defined as the, you know, something that would either cause an organ to dysfunction or some other substantial harm to your health. But it doesn’t cover care," says Sarika Saxena, a staff attorney with the Health Justice Program.
Unable to work, Chadband could not afford the strips that diabetics use to test their blood sugar levels. She was gambling with her health. Her daughter eventually found help through UndocuCare, a program with NYLPI, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest.
Attorney Sarika Saxena was able to navigate the legal process for Chadband, getting her access to Medicaid before her immigration status was finalized.
"While their application is pending they are eligible for a Medicaid," says Saxena.
New York is one of a handful of states that acknowledge a category of Medicaid eligibility called Permanently Residing Under the Color of Law.
It's for undocumented immigrants with serious chronic health issues. It allows them to receive preventative care and promises to save taxpayers in the long run.
"The state right now is providing them dialysis on emergency Medicaid. But if they have access to Medicaid and could get the transplant that they medically need it would save the state a lot of money," says Saxena.
"It make my life easier, you can just go to the clinic. I thank God to put good people in my life," says Chadband.
She's now on the kidney transplant waiting list and no longer needs to be on blood pressure medicine.
For more information, visit nylpi.org/health-justice.