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Affordable Care Act FOIA Filed

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 19, 2014

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Adela de la Torre, 213-400-7822, delatorre@nilc.org
 

National Immigration Law Center Seeks Answers for Failure to Enroll Eligible Immigrant Families in Health Care

Freedom of Information Act Request Seeks Data on Eligible Immigrants Shut Out of Federal Health Care Marketplace
 

WASHINGTON — Far too many eligible immigrants were shut out of the online federal health care marketplace due to onerous and inflexible identity verification requirements, and advocates want to know why. The National Immigration Law Center (NILC) today filed a Freedom of Information Act request to learn more about the government’s “identity proofing” requirements and its use of Experian, the credit check database used to verify a user’s identity on Healthcare.gov, the federal website through which Americans may enroll in health care plans as mandated by the Affordable Care Act.

The health insurance application process requires the electronic verification of several pieces of information applicants provide, including household income and citizenship or immigration status. Because of important consumer protections built into the law, deficiencies with the electronic verification system generally do not prevent people from buying necessary insurance for themselves or their loved ones.

However, users of Healthcare.gov have found that if Experian fails to verify their identity, they are automatically prevented from buying insurance through the website. As a result, they have to navigate a maze of red tape to successfully buy the health insurance they are required to have under the new health care law. Because the Experian database relies on an individual’s credit history to verify his or her identity, the database cannot verify the identity of recently arrived immigrants and young people who don’t have credit histories, among others.

“The promise of the Affordable Care Act — to provide access to affordable health care for all eligible individuals — has been undermined by an unnecessarily restrictive and inflexible identity verification system that locks millions of immigrant families and others out of Obamacare,” said Alvaro Huerta, staff attorney with the National Immigration Law Center. “The process is not responsive to the real-world circumstances of many low-income Americans and is keeping too many people from enrolling in the health care coverage they need. We want to know how the government plans to fix this problem before open enrollment begins again later this year.”

Obamacare “navigators” (individuals who help applicants navigate the new system) and health care advocates working with immigrants described the identity-proofing process as one of the top issues preventing their clients from purchasing health care. Jean Paul Ruzibiza, an immigrant from Burundi seeking asylum in Maine, obtained work authorization in February and applied for insurance through Healthcare.gov. Experian was unable to verify his identity, forcing Ruzibiza and advocates to call the national marketplace call center to process his application, which has been incorrectly denied. Mr. Ruzibiza has appealed the decision, but the issue has yet to be resolved. In the meantime, Mr. Ruzibiza, who suffers chronic health issues due to having been tortured in his home country, remains without health coverage.

“Jean Paul is a prime example of someone who the marketplace is intended to help, but who has been improperly denied coverage,” said Robyn Merrill, a senior policy analyst with Maine Equal Justice Partners, which is assisting Mr. Ruzibiza.

NILC’s Freedom of Information Act request seeks data on how many people have been denied health care due to this technical glitch, information about why the government chose to use the Experian database to verify identity, and the government’s plans for remedying this problem. Once obtained, information produced by the request will be made available from www.nilc.org.

Established in 1979, the National Immigration Law Center is the only advocacy organization in the United States exclusively dedicated to defending and advancing the rights and opportunities of low-income immigrants and their families. NILC advances its mission through policy analysis and litigation, along with education and advocacy. Over the past three decades, NILC has won landmark legal decisions protecting fundamental rights, thwarted policies that would have devastated the lives of low-income immigrants and their family members, and advanced major policies that reinforce our nation’s values of equality, opportunity, and justice for all.

A copy of the FOIA request is available at www.nilc.org/document.html?id=1108.

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