Last year amid the global COVID-19 crisis, Illinois became the first state to expand publicly funded health care to all low-income immigrant seniors, including those living in the country illegally.
In a recent WJPF radio interview, state Sen. Terri Bryant of Murphysboro brought up the program after a caller asked how many “illegal aliens” Illinois taxpayers “are now responsible for.”
Bryant used the question to criticize Illinois for being too soft on illegal immigration, suggesting without evidence the state’s policies are somehow connected with violent crime in Chicago and repeating a consistently debunked claim about the city having the nation’s strictest gun laws.
She also took aim at the state for expanding health care coverage to undocumented immigrants, suggesting those over a certain age are now eligible for health care benefits not available to citizens:
“In this budget, we now allow for Medicaid for undocumented individuals who are 55 and older,” the Republican said. “So last year — it seemed like it stayed very quiet, I don’t know why more people weren’t talking about it — it was 65 and older. This year they slipped in 55 and older. So you may be 55 years old in this state and a citizen and not eligible for Medicaid. But if you are an undocumented immigrant and 55 or older, you’re eligible for Medicaid.”
We were curious what Bryant was talking about when she said being undocumented and 55 years or older would make someone eligible for Medicaid benefits in Illinois. After all, Medicaid is a need-based program, meaning only applicants who meet certain income requirements qualify.
We called Bryant’s office to speak with her about what her claim was based on but did not hear back.
Applicants must meet the same income criteria as citizens, legal residents
Undocumented immigrants face limited access to health care, with federal law restricting them from participating in Medicare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Marketplaces.
In addition to becoming the first state to provide coverage for low-income seniors whose immigration status disqualifies them from federal programs, Illinois is one of six states funding its own program to cover income-eligible children regardless of immigration status. California, one of the other states that covers minors, expanded its program to include young adults in 2020 and last week approved a plan to cover low-income immigrants age 50 and over beginning next year.
Illinois moved to create two programs expanding coverage for older immigrants left out of federal programs. Last year, state lawmakers used the budget to create a program providing non-citizens living at or below the federal poverty level who are at least 65 years old with access to some Medicaid-like benefits regardless of their immigration status. The age and income requirements for that program mirror those for a version of Medicaid called Aid to the Aged, Blind, and Disabled, though the benefits for the immigrant seniors are not as expansive.
The budget lawmakers and the governor approved this year created a program set to launch by the end of next May providing benefits identical to Medicaid to non-citizens aged 55 through 64 who would be eligible for Medicaid if not for their immigration status.
Under Medicaid itself in Illinois, U.S. citizens and non-citizens with legal status 19 years and older are eligible for coverage if their income is within 138% of the federal poverty level. That same income requirement applies to non-citizens who will be eligible for the state’s new program, according to Jane Longo, deputy director of new initiatives at the Illinois Department of Healthcare & Family Services.
So, with the exception of immigration status, a 55-year-old who is undocumented would have to meet the same criteria as a 55-year-old citizen to qualify for coverage in Illinois.
Bryant drew a false comparison, since there’s no scenario in which U.S. citizens would fail to qualify for Medicaid, as long as they fell within the proper income range.
Bryant said, “You may be 55 years old in this state and a citizen and not eligible for Medicaid. But if you are an undocumented immigrant and 55 or older, you’re eligible for Medicaid.”
This is a false comparison.
No U.S. citizens would be barred from Medicaid unless their income was too high to qualify. And the beneficiaries of the Illinois plan who are in the U.S. illegally would also have to fall below the same income restrictions.
We rate Bryant’s claim False.
FALSE — The statement is not accurate.
Click here for more on the six PolitiFact ratings and how we select facts to check.
The Better Government Association runs PolitiFact Illinois, the local arm of the nationally renowned, Pulitzer Prize-winning fact-checking enterprise that rates the truthfulness of statements made by governmental leaders and politicians. BGA’s fact-checking service has teamed up weekly with the Sun-Times, in print and online. You can find all of the PolitiFact Illinois stories we’ve reported together here.
“Illinois Is First in the Nation to Extend Health Coverage to Undocumented Seniors,” Kaiser Health News, Jan. 7, 2021
Radio interview with state Sen. Terri Bryant, WJPF, July 13, 2021
“Health Coverage and Care of Undocumented Immigrants,” KFF, July 15, 2019
Emails and phone call: Jamie Munks, spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Healthcare & Family Services, July 15 & 16, 2021
Public Act 101-0636, 101st Illinois General Assembly
Coverage for Immigrant Seniors, Illinois Department of Healthcare & Family Services, accessed July 15, 2021
Public Act 102-0016, 102nd Illinois General Assembly
Affordable Care Act, Illinois Department of Healthcare & Family Services, accessed July 16, 2021
Phone interview: Jane Longo, deputy director of new initiatives at the Illinois Department of Healthcare & Family Services, July 16, 2021