Applying for health insurance will not affect your immigration status.
In the United States there is no national health service. Health insurance is most commonly provided through employment, but there are some other options for getting health insurance as well. Without coverage, many will continue to turn to emergency departments and public hospitals, or defer care and experience adverse health outcomes. If you have been granted employment authorization you may obtain health insurance through your employment or be eligible for all marketplace coverage (MassHealth). Until then you may qualify for limited MassHealth plans such as the following safety net programs for non-citizens; MassHealth Limited, Children's Medical Security Plan, Masshealth coverage for pregnant women, Healthy Safety Net, and utilizing Federally Qualified Health Centers (Healthcare.gov). This page will cover health care rights and resources for asylum seekers in the Greater Boston area for the following topics.
Insurance options for undocumented/non-citizens
Within 8 months of arrival – Refugee Medical Assistance (RMA) Once you are an asylee that has been granted asylum you are entitled to short-term health insurance called Refugee Medical Assistance (RMA) for up to 8 months from the date of arrival in the U.S., or the date of being granted asylum, or date of certification for trafficking victims. RMA funds enable refugees to complete a Refugee Medical Screening (RMS) upon arrival in the U.S., protecting public health and providing early health interventions. Find resources that can provide screening under the Early Care and Screening for New Arrivals section! After 8 months of arrival – Qualified Immigrants If you are a refugee or have been granted political asylum or withholding of deportation status, you are considered a “qualified immigrant” for insurance purposes. Qualified immigrants can get the same health insurance benefits as citizens. You are a qualified immigrant if you:
Have been a legal permanent resident for 5 years, or more
Have had parole status for 5 years, or more
Are a refugee or have political asylum or withholding of deportation status
Are a victim of severe forms of trafficking
Are a victim of domestic violence
Insurance options for undocumented/ non-citizens: Immigrants who do not have a Social Security Number or documentation of their immigration status may still qualify for certain types of limited coverage under MassHealth. Note that your total income and resources must fall below certain eligibility limits, which means that you may need to provide proof of income and identification in order to apply. Additionally, coverage is available for Massachusetts residents only. Pregnant women and infants are eligible for MassHealth Standard regardless of status, and those who are considered PRUCOL immigrants (read more under Insurance for PRUCOL and Special Status Immigrants), may qualify for additional coverage.
Safety net programs with limited benefits that non-citizens are eligible for:
Download MassHealth YEAR booklet for in depth information here.
MassHealth for PRUCOL and Special Status Immigrants
If you have had your status or lived in U.S. less than 5 years, and do not qualify for any of the conditions above, you may be entitled to certain healthcare benefits as a PRUCOL (Permanently Residing Under Color of Law) or Special Status Immigrants. In general terms, you may have PRUCOL status if the US government knows you are living in the country and does not plan to make you leave. PRUCOL is therefore not an immigration status granted by the Department of Homeland Security, but rather a public benefits eligibility category based on your immigration status.
Here are some MassHealth benefits people can get if they have Special Status or PRUCOL status:
MassHealth Essential plus MassHealth Limited is available for adults with a family income under 100% of the federal poverty level who are also disabled and have not had a job in one year.
It is also for seniors (age 65, or older) with family income under 100% of the federal poverty level.
MassHealth Family Assistance is available for children (age 18, or younger) whose family income is under 200% of the federal poverty level.
MassHealth CommonHealth is available for disabled children (age 18 or younger).
Commonwealth Care is available for qualified, special status, or PRUCOL immigrants whose family income is under 300% of the federal poverty level.
Have questions, need help, or want to learn more?
Call the Health Care For All Helpline at 1-800-272-4232
Call the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition at 617-350-5480 x208
Even if you have no form of health insurance, you have the right to medical attention in cases of emergency. Below is a program that may help to pay healthcare-related costs for uninsured Massachusetts residents. Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC) “Federally Qualified Health Centers (also called Community/Migrant Health Centers, Community Health Centers, and 330 Funded Clinics) are community-based health care providers that receive funds from the HRSA Health Center Program to provide primary care services to persons of all ages, regardless of their ability to pay or health insurance status. They must meet a stringent set of requirements, including providing care on a sliding fee scale based on ability to pay and operating under a governing board that includes patients.” To receive care, you need an address and proof of income (Source). You can find a Federally Qualified Health Center by using the following databases:
Federally Qualified Health Center Massachusetts- find here
Boston HealthNet – Boston Medical Center also lists Community Health Centers here
*In Massachusetts, open enrollment for plans on the Massachusetts Health Connector is from November 01, 2020 - January 23, 2021. This open enrollment timeframe only applies to Massachusetts. Depending on your income and if you have a change in your household (including marriage, having children, and more), you may be able to apply for health insurance outside of Open Enrollment – you can always check in with the HelpLine for more information!
Apply for MassHealth, the Health Safety Net, or the Children's Medical Security Plan here Need help with your MassHealth insurance application? Click here to find assistance
HelpLine at (800) 272-4232 For Answers To Your Health Insurance Questions Health Care for All provides multilingual assistance in English, Spanish and Portuguese.
Preventive and Primary Care List of providers that specifically serve immigrant populations or people with or without insurance. Many of these health clinics may provide screenings and affidavits in support of legal applications for asylum.
Family Van provides free health screenings and checkups, they will see anyone, insurance or no insurance, legal citizen or non legal citizen.Their mobile unit is on site in Boston neighborhoods every week! Find the weekly schedule of the Family Van here.
Boston Center for Refugee Health and Human Rights (BCRHHR)provides holistic health care coordinated with social services and legal aid for asylum seekers, refugees, survivors of torture, and their families. They will see individuals with or without health insurance. Specializes in the care of people who have experienced persecution in their homeland. They accept people with and without insurance and can help with medical and mental health services, as well as legal referrals and support groups.
Download their guide on health, legal, and social services, as well as life in Boston, and in the United States in general, here.
Provides comprehensive primary care services through regular check-ups, immunizations and screenings, as well as providing care for illnesses and injuries.
Will coordinate patient care if a patient needs to see a specialist for a more serious health issue.
Provides on-site interpreters and over the phone interpreters for more than 30 languages.
Has a Resource Map Finder for language classes, health clinics, employment training, and legal services in the Boston metropolitan area.
People who are new to Boston Medical Center should call at (617) 414-5612 to schedule a first appointment. Call for an appointment (617) 414-1994
Women’s Health Women may have special health care needs related to contraception, pregnancy, etc. As the refugee population may need different types of assistance, due for example to past trauma or language barriers, or help with particular issues such as female genital cutting, there are several clinics in the Greater Boston are that cater specifically to the refugee women.
Medical affidavit writing for patients seeking asylum
Consultation regarding Female Genital Cutting
Call to make an appointment (617) 414-6376
No one is turned away because of lack of funds. They welcome people who may need support with health insurance and addressing transportation, food, and housing needs. Providers speak Spanish, French, and Haitian Creole.
African Women Health Center Brigham and Women’s Hospitalis the first and only African health practice in the United States that focuses on issues regarding female circumcision. Works to improve the health of refugee and immigrant women who have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM). The overall mission of the AWHC is to holistically improve the health of refugee and immigrant women who have undergone female genital cutting. It provides access, understanding and community to women who have long-term complications from this tradition and who seek reproductive health care. We speak numerous African languages and provide female interpreters when needed. Women, Infants, & Children (WIC) Nutrition Programis a nutrition program that provides free healthy foods, nutrition education, breastfeeding support, and referrals to healthcare and other services, free of charge, to eligible Massachusetts families. You can participate in WIC if you:
Live in Massachusetts
Have a nutritional need (WIC staff can help you determine this)
Are a child under 5, a new mom, or a pregnant or breastfeeding woman
Have a family income less than WIC guidelines
Contact them at: (800) 942-1007
All hospitals are required to provide translating services to patients that cannot speak English, regardless of status and free of charge. Hospitals in the city of Boston like Mass General or Boston Medical Center have at least 20+ different languages spoken in staff at all times, and if a certain language or translator is not available then the hospital will call the designated translator for the particular language. Smaller health care facilities like clinics will employ staff that resembles the population being served. For example, where there is a dense population of Haitians it is typical for the clinic in such an area to be equipped with staff members to translate Haitian Creole and French.