Mayor’s initiative will improve immigrant access to health care services

By Bill Parry

Mayor Bill de Blasio has announced a multimillion-dollar initiative to improve health care access for the city’s immigrant population, making New York City one of the first major U.S. municipalities to expand health care access after the enactment of the Affordable Care Act.

The plan includes the new “Direct Access” health initiative to provide reliable and coordinated access to affordable care for the city’s low-income, uninsured immigrant population who are excluded from federal and state support.

“New Yorkers should not be prevented from accessing health care because of a broken federal immigration system,” de Blasio said. “While some in Washington continue to fight against the Affordable Care Act, we are going to expand on it by providing truly universal health care.”

The plan also includes recommendations from the Mayor’s Task Force on Immigrant Health Care Access for a set of programs to expand public education and affordable health care options, support health care providers serving immigrant patients, and improve medical interpretation services. Launched in 2014, the Task Force found that major barriers to immigrant access to care include lack of affordable care, limited service delivery and provider capacity and inadequate cultural and linguistic competency among health care providers. It also said immigrants were not aware of care and coverage options, high-quality interpretation services or translation services available to them.

“We are committed to health equity and to ensuring that all of New York City’s immigrant communities are able to get primary and preventive care so they can avoid medical emergencies,” Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs Nisha Agarwal said. “The program will show the powerful effects of affordable access to care.”

The Direct Access program will be launched in the spring of 2016 as a year-long program to coordinate access to care for nearly 1,000 uninsured immigrant New Yorkers as a starting point. That initial launch will enable the City to collect necessary data to design a successful citywide model for the future.

The estimated cost of the initial launch is $6 million, to be partially financed with dollars secured by the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City. The Robin Hood Foundation has already committed to support the Direct Access initiative, and details of additional private funders are forthcoming.

Direct Access builds on the city’s existing health care system by providing for greater care coordination and efficiencies in accessing care, officials say. Improved access to primary care can help prevent disease, lead to better health outcomes and help lower health care costs.

“We have the greatest public health system in the country, and we will build on the work the city Health and Hospitals Corporation has been doing for immigrants since its founding to ensure that every New York City resident—young or old, rich or poor—can access the care they need for themselves and their families,” de Blasio said.

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.

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