Immigrant Access to Healthcare and the Quality of Healthcare Services

By: Lee Molitoris

Immigrants face challenges in both obtaining healthcare and the quality of healthcare services, and both of these problems worsen for undocumented immigrants. Before Universal Healthcare, documented immigrants had some access to healthcare coverage through Medicare and Medicaid, however undocumented immigrants were denied access to many federal, state and local benefits. Generally, immigrants were not turned away by hospitals in emergency situations, regardless of medical coverage or immigration status.

Universal Healthcare does little to alleviate the problems of undocumented immigrants. Two purposes of Universal Healthcare were to save the taxpayer money by treating patients before they were rushed to the emergency room, thereby avoiding expensive emergency room costs, and giving healthcare access to indigent people. However, Universal Healthcare still does not cover undocumented immigrants, thereby ignoring one of the biggest problems that our prior healthcare system faced. One solution is to provide healthcare to undocumented children, which would allow healthier adults and less emergency room visits.

Further, immigrants have lower quality of healthcare services due to racial discrimination and language barriers. To help solve these problems, hospitals could hire interpreters, or provide medical staff electronic tablets with interactive translating, which could help bridge the language barrier. An additional approach could be a form of community lawyering, where attorneys and community members engage hospitals in legal and non-legal actions to encourage hospitals to provide equal access to healthcare services. Community lawyering would encourage hospital medical staff to stop racial discrimination and bridge language barriers.


Samuel Wolbert, Universal Healthcare and Access for Undocumented Immigrants, 5 Pitt J. Envtl. Pub. Health L. 61 (2011).

Rose Cuison Villazor, Community Lawyering: An Approach to Addressing Inequalities in Access to Health Care for Poor, of Color and Immigrant Communities, 8 N.Y.U. J. Legis. & Publ Pol’y 35 (2005).

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