Filipino Americans value health insurance, rank high in coverage

Noilyn Abesamis‐Mendoza; The FilAm photo

Noilyn Abesamis‐Mendoza; The FilAm photo

By Cristina DC Pastor

Events planner Josie Briones may be undocumented, but she has made it her responsibility to provide for her own health care coverage.

Although her work is seasonal and so is her wage, she pays a monthly premium under Aetna’s Individual Plan. For $400 a month, her plan allows her unlimited doctor’s visits to both primary care physicians and specialists for a co-pay of $50.

With the economy putting a squeeze on parties and lavish weddings, Josefina’s earnings have slowed down a bit. She is contemplating downgrading her plan to the most basic.

“I’m looking at a plan where I pay only $107 a month, and pay the doctor $90 for every visit,” she said.

In her attempt at “saving money,” she said she probably wouldn’t go to a specialist anymore. She is hoping to keep her insurance discount card where she pays $25 for her maintenance dose of Benicar to treat her hypertension.

When they peer into the future, Filipinos, like Josie, see themselves staying healthy and working way into retirement age. Immigrants are especially a hardy population. It is not uncommon to see them working two or three jobs to support themselves in New York and their families in the Philippines.

Asian immigrants in New York are especially vulnerable to absence of health insurance because some of them are “self-employed, work in small businesses or in cash‐based industries that are less likely to offer health benefits,” according to Noilyn Abesamis‐Mendoza, health policy director of the Coalition for Asian American Children & Families.

“Of the 1.6 million Asian American population in New York State — or 8 percent of the total population — one out of eight does not have health insurance,” she said in a briefing with community and ethnic journalists organized by New America Media.

In New York City, she said an “overwhelming” 83 percent of uninsured Asian Americans are foreign‐born.
Healthcare access problems, she added, are exacerbated by immigration status, language barriers, cultural stigmas, among other problems.

“Many of the uninsured are undocumented immigrants,” she said. Before they could arrange for health insurance, their priority is to fix their legal status.

But the Filipino community presents a unique profile.

Among the Asian American communities, Filipinos, despite the considerable number of undocumented immigrants, rank high in terms of insurance coverage. Seventy-eight percent are insured with private companies, according to data from the American Community Survey of the U.S. Census. Only 11 percent are uninsured.

Filipinos fare favorably with other Asian groups with high insurance coverage by private companies such as the Japanese (85 percent), the Taiwanese (80 percent), and the Indians (79 percent).

Many Filipino children also enjoy health insurance coverage (68 percent) next to Japanese children (79 percent). Only 3 percent of Filipino American children are uninsured.

Within the care community, health insurance has been a lifeline. Some caregivers and nannies are insured in limited capacity by their employers, some are self-insured.

“They get the most basic insurance,” said Mona Lunot-Kuker, who has been working in child care and did volunteer work for Damayan Migrant Workers Association.

She has met nannies with no insurance and some with basic coverage for annual checkups. Others have access to
hospitals which provide low-income women with cards for the occasional Pap tests and mammograms.

“Pero yung iba takot kumuha (ng card) kase mga undocumented,” she said.

Health advocate Becca Telzak said that while the Affordable Care Act (ACA) “restricts undocumented immigrants” from buying full insurance on the health benefit exchange, there are other options.

One is the Emergency Medicaid for those who need urgent medical attention. The hospital assigns a social worker to get information from an applicant, which usually includes proof of income and proof of identity.

Emergency Medicaid is available through the exchange, which is a marketplace for New York residents looking to “shop” for health insurance. The exchange, which becomes effective on October 1st, may be accessed through the web or via call centers.

“We hope that (undocumented) immigrants will be able to apply for Medicaid through the exchange,” she said.

Medicaid for Pregnant Women is also being offered to undocumented as well as low-income women, said Telzak, who is a health advocacy supervisor of Make the Road New York, a nonprofit organization assisting working class Latino families. Another is Hospital Financial Assistance, a program offered in many hospitals for patients without insurance because of their legal status or financial capability.

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