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Estimated Impacts of the Proposed Public Charge Rule on Immigrants and Medicaid

On October 10, 2018, the Trump administration released a proposed rule to change “public charge” policies that govern how the use of public benefits may affect individuals’ ability to obtain legal permanent resident (LPR) status. The proposed rule would expand the programs that the federal government would consider in public charge determinations to include previously excluded health, nutrition, and housing programs, including Medicaid. It also identifies characteristics DHS could consider as negative factors that would increase the likelihood of someone becoming a public charge, including having income below 125% of the federal poverty level (FPL) ($25,975 for a family of three as of 2018). This analysis provides new estimates of the rule’s potential impacts. Using 2014 Survey of Income and Program Participation data, it examines the (1) share of noncitizens who originally entered the U.S. without LPR status who have characteristics that DHS could potentially weigh negatively in a public charge determination and (2) number of individuals who would disenroll from Medicaid under different scenarios:

Proposed changes to federal “public charge” policies may lead to fear and uncertainty among immigrant families about using public programs, which likely would drive down enrollment in Medicaid & CHIP, potentially by millions of people.

Nearly all (94%) noncitizens who originally entered the U.S. without LPR status have at least one characteristic that DHS could potentially weigh negatively in a public charge determination. Over four in ten (42%) have characteristics that DHS could consider a heavily weighted negative factor and over one-third (34%) have income below the new 125% FPL threshold. Under the proposed rule, individuals with lower income, a health condition, less education, and/or who use or are likely to use certain health, nutrition, and housing programs, including Medicaid, would face increased barriers to adjusting to LPR status because DHS could consider these characteristics as negative factors.

If the proposed rule leads to Medicaid disenrollment rates ranging from 15% to 35% among Medicaid and CHIP enrollees living in a household with a noncitizen, between 2.1 to 4.9 million Medicaid/CHIP enrollees would disenroll. These estimates reflect disenrollment among noncitizens without LPR status who would disenroll because participation in the program could negatively affect their chances of adjusting to LPR status as well as disenrollment among a broader group of enrollees in immigrant families, including their primarily U.S. born children, due to increased fear and confusion. The disenrollment rates draw on previous research on the chilling effect welfare reform had on enrollment in health coverage among immigrant families. Decreased participation in Medicaid would increase the uninsured rate among immigrant families, reducing access to care and contributing to worse health outcomes. Coverage losses also would result in lost revenues and increased uncompensated care for providers and have spillover effects within communities.

Key Findings

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.