Impact of Shifting Immigration Policy on Medicaid Enrollment and Utilization of Care among Health Center Patients

Executive Summary

On August 14, 2019, the Trump administration published a final rule to broaden the programs the federal government will consider in public charge determinations to include Medicaid coverage for non-pregnant adults and certain previously excluded nutrition and housing programs. To learn about the possible early effects of the public charge rule and other immigration policies on patients at community health centers, this brief draws on interviews and survey data to capture health center directors’ and staff’s perceptions of changes in coverage and service use among their patients who are immigrants. Key findings include:

  • Health centers reported that, in recent months, immigrant patients have declined to enroll or reenroll themselves and/or their children in Medicaid for fear of public charge. At some health centers interviewed, these changes were widespread with many patients dropping Medicaid while at others, the changes were occurring among only a small number of patients. Respondents noted those dropping Medicaid include immigrants not subject to the public charge rule, such as pregnant women.
  • Health center respondents reported patients are confused about the new rule and are afraid to provide identifying information. Patients are not sure which programs the new rules apply to and who is subject to them. Respondents also noted immigrant patients are hesitant to provide any identifying information that could jeopardize their status.
  • According to respondents, the public charge rule is creating a “chilling” effect, leading to decreased enrollment in other programs not subject to public charge. Health centers reported that in addition to declining to sign up for Medicaid, patients are also not signing up for WIC and other state and local food assistance programs which are not subject to the public charge rule.
  • About half of health centers reported a drop in utilization by immigrant patients, especially among pregnant women. They noted declines in use of services by patients with chronic conditions, such as diabetes and HIV, and those needing preventive care. Health centers expressed particular concerns regarding pregnant women, who they say are initiating prenatal care later in pregnancy and are attending fewer prenatal care visits due to fears around public charge.
  • Health centers are training staff to answer questions on public charge and are working to ensure access to care for their patients. Some respondents said they are now providing home visits and free medication delivery to ensure their patients continue to get care.
Issue Brief