Health Care for Asylum Seekers

Last updated on April 14, 2023

Health care in the United States can be very expensive. To help cover medical costs, many people in the United States get health insurance. What health insurance you can access is different depending on your immigration status and the state where you live. Accessing health insurance or medical care should not affect your asylum case.

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Can asylum seekers access health insurance through an employer?

Yes – in general, if your employer offers health insurance to their employees, you can choose to get health insurance this way. Some employers offer health insurance to their employees, and others do not.

Can asylum seekers access free government health insurance such as Medicaid or CHIP?

Maybe. The rules about who is eligible for government health insurance programs are different in each U.S. state.

  • These maps have general information about which U.S. states offer health benefits to immigrant children and pregnant women.
  • This chart has information about the general health benefits available in each U.S. state. (Please note that this chart was written for attorneys and contains technical language.)
  • If you have questions about whether you might be eligible for government health benefits in your state, you can try to search for community organizations in your area to ask for more information.

Can asylum seekers buy health insurance through a national or state exchange (also called a “marketplace”)?

Maybe. The answer generally depends on whether you have a valid work permit or not. If you are eligible to buy health insurance on an exchange, you may also qualify for government financial assistance with the costs.

If you are an asylum seeker with a valid work permit, you should be able to buy health insurance on a national or state-based exchange. Asylum seekers under 14 years old whose asylum applications have been pending for at least 180 days can also use an exchange.

If you are an asylum seeker over age 14 and you do NOT have a valid work permit or other immigration status, unfortunately you cannot use the health care exchange in most states.

  • As of 2023, an exception is Colorado. You can buy health insurance on the Colorado state exchange and apply for financial support regardless of your immigration status.
  • Beginning in 2024, residents of Washington state will also be able to use the state exchange regardless of immigration status.

If you have a different immigration status, you can check this government webpage for a complete list of who can use the national exchange.

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What if I need medical care but I do not have health insurance?

For urgent medical care, you can still go to a hospital emergency room, even if you do not have insurance. You will most likely be asked to pay after your hospital visit. However, at some hospitals, you may be able to ask for “charity care” and get medical care for free or lower cost. If you are delivering a baby or you have a serious medical emergency, you may also be able to apply for Emergency Medicaid at the hospital. You can talk to a social worker or a hospital employee to see if you can apply for charity care or Emergency Medicaid.

Also, some medical clinics offer free or low-cost care for people without insurance, including immigrants. Here are some resources to look for options in your area:

  • Visit this Free Clinic Directory and enter your zip code, or the city and state where you live, to find free and low-cost medical clinics in your area.
  • You can call 211 in many parts of the United States to get help finding local health care centers and other services.
  • This resource from United We Dream also contains links to free and low-cost clinics in different states.
  • For mental health services, you can visit the websites of Give an Hour or Latinx Therapists Action Network and enter your location. They will show lists of therapists who provide free or low-cost services to asylum seekers.
  • You can also try to search for community organizations in your area to ask for help.

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