Training Provides Immigrants Information to Avoid Losing Medicaid Benefits

Emily Guan, of the Chinese American Service League, presents during the “Language Equity: Medicaid Access for Immigrants” workshop, which informed attendees of how to maintain Medicaid benefits in spite of language barriers. The workshop, held on Nov. 28, 2018, was organized by the University of Illinois at Chicago and the Illinois Coalition for Immigrants and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) and was held at the Chinese American Service League in Chicago.

By: Princess-India Alexander

In the medical insurance world, language can be a major barrier to immigrants trying to get and maintain healthcare coverage.

Because Medicaid renewal notices are sent only in English and Spanish, immigrants who speak neither  language frequently find themselves losing coverage.

The University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) and the Illinois Coalition for Immigrants and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) teamed up to address this issue and create the “Language Equity-Medicaid Access for Immigrants” training. They presented their first workshop in November 2018 to 51 Chinese Americans at the Chinese American Services League. They conducted the workshop in Cantonese and Mandarin and provided bilingual handouts pertaining to Medicaid redetermination. Their next workshop, to occur in February, will target Spanish-speaking citizens.

Photo Above: More than 50 people attended the workshop for Chinese Americans on Medicaid access.

“When an individual is qualified for Medicaid, they have to re-prove every year in an application that they’re still eligible for Medicaid,” said ICIRR Health Policy Director Luvia Quinones. “But when individuals are on Medicaid and they don’t speak English, yet they’re getting notices about having to renew Medicaid [in English],… they get disenrolled and therefore become uninsured.”

The training, supported with a $2,500 Acting Up award from The Chicago Community Trust, teaches communities and community organizations about how individuals with limited English proficiency can maintain Medicaid.

The Trust awarded $150,500 to 37 community projects that benefit neighborhoods and the public good. These ideas were sparked through the Trust’s fifth annual On the Table, where Chicago-area residents came together on May 8, 2018, in mealtime conversations to engage in meaningful dialogue, develop new relationships and inspire action to make a difference in their communities.

In a UIC and ICIRR phone survey about Medicaid access for limited English proficient Chicagoans, one-third of participants reported that they weren’t even aware they had to renew their coverage each year. The resulting training was built with them in mind.

The training at Chinese American Service League was taught in the targeted community’s language and included pamphlets and handouts explaining the entire renewal process in both English and Chinese. By the end of the workshop, attendees left with the information needed to maintain their insurance, and Chinese American Service League staffers were left with information on how to conduct similar trainings in the future. Under this framework, UIC and ICIRR hope they can help people better navigate the current system.

“Of course, we can approach it from the policy perspective,” said Elizabeth Harrison, a research assistant in the Department of Occupational Therapy at UIC. “But in the meantime, we can also make an improvement by educating communities so that, hopefully, they have more skills to navigate the complicated renewals as they currently are. Then, we can hopefully create change sometime in the future.”

Upcoming Workshop:

Topic: Language Equity-Medicaid Access for Immigrants

When: 4:30 p.m., February 28, 2019

Where: Instituto del Progresso Latino, 2520 S. Western Ave., Chicago, Ill.

Who: Spanish-speaking individuals interested in learning about Medicaid access and eligibility

Contact:  Elizabeth Harrison at eharri20@uic.edu or 312-355-0525 for more information.

An attendee reviews handouts during the workshop, called “Language Equity: Medicaid Access for Immigrants.”

Organizers of the “Language Equity: Medicaid Access for Immigrants” workshop last November include (from left to right): Mansha Mirza, assistant professor at UIC department of Occupational Therapy; Elizabeth Harrison, research assistant in the Department of Occupational Therapy at UIC; and Emily Guan, Chinese American Service League staffer and training presenter.

Photos by Chuck Olu-Alabi