In August 2019, the Trump Administration published a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) final rule to change “public charge” inadmissibility policies. Under longstanding immigration policy, federal officials can deny entry to the U.S. or adjustment to legal permanent resident (LPR) status (i.e., a “green card”) to someone they determine to be a public charge. The new rule redefines public charge and expands the programs that the federal government considers in public charge determinations to include previously excluded health, nutrition, and housing programs, such as Medicaid for non-pregnant adults. It also identifies characteristics DHS will consider as negative factors that increase the likelihood of someone becoming a public charge, including having income below 125% of the federal poverty level (FPL) ($26,663 for a family of three as of 2019). The rule is scheduled to go into effect as of October 15, 2019. Using the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) 2014 Panel and 2017 American Community Survey (ACS) data, this analysis provides estimates of the rule’s potential impacts:
Nearly eight in ten (79%) noncitizens who originally entered the U.S. without LPR status have at least one characteristic that DHS could weigh negatively in a public charge determination. Over one in four (27%) have a characteristic that DHS could consider a heavily weighted negative factor. The most common negative factors among the population are lacking private health insurance (56%), not having a high school diploma (39%), and having family income below the new 125% FPL threshold (32%).
If the rule leads to disenrollment rates ranging from 15% to 35% among Medicaid and CHIP enrollees who are noncitizens or live in a household with a noncitizen, between 2.0 to 4.7 million individuals could disenroll. Previous research and recent experience suggest that the rule will likely lead to decreased enrollment in public programs among immigrant families beyond those directly affected by the rule due to fear and confusion about the changes. Even before the rule was finalized, there were reports of parents disenrolling themselves and their children from Medicaid and CHIP coverage, choosing not to renew coverage, or choosing not to enroll despite being eligible. Beyond potential disenrollment, the rule may also deter new enrollment among some of the nearly 1.8 million uninsured individuals who are eligible for Medicaid and CHIP but not enrolled and are noncitizens themselves or live in a household with a noncitizen. Decreased participation in Medicaid would increase the uninsured rate among immigrant families, reducing access to care and contributing to worse health outcomes. Coverage losses also will likely decrease revenues and increase uncompensated care for providers and have spillover effects within communities.