Help with Medical Bills for Immigrants without Legal Immigration Status

Authored By: Northwest Justice Project LSC Funded
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Describes what programs are available and who is eligible for medical bill help.


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I do not have immigration status. Can I get any help with my medical bills?

Maybe.  In Washington State, these programs are open to all low-income immigrants who meet other program requirements, no matter what your immigration status is:

  • Medical coverage for children under 19.

  • Medical coverage for pregnant women.

  • Emergency Medicaid for treatment of emergency medical conditions in a hospital.

  • Treatment for cancer, benign life-threatening tumors, or dialysis.

If your immigration application is pending, but you have not yet gotten immigration status, you may be eligible for other benefits. Read Washington Public Assistance for Lawfully Present Non-Citizens.

Am I eligible for coverage under the pregnant women and children’s health programs?

All low-income children under 19 and low-income pregnant women are eligible for medical assistance in Washington State regardless of immigration status, if you meet other program requirements.

If you apply for medical benefits for your child, the Health Care Authority (“HCA”) or Department of Social and Health Services (“DSHS”) will ask for documentation of your child’s immigration status. This is only to figure out if your child should get coverage through state or federal funding. See Apple Health for Kids Program: How to Respond to DSHS Notices about Immigration and Citizenship Documents.

Medical assistance for children is free for families with incomes below 215% of the Federal Poverty Level (about $52,890 for a family of four in 2018).  Families with incomes between 215% and 317% of the Federal Poverty Level must pay a premium. 

What does Emergency Medicaid cover?

It covers treatment of certain emergency medical conditions in a hospital, not a clinic.  It does not cover services

  • You get after discharge from the hospital.

  • Unrelated to your emergency you get at the same time as the emergency treatment.

You can have coverage under the Emergency Medicaid program for up to three months before you apply for coverage. This means you can apply after receiving the emergency treatment. You should do so as soon as possible anyway. While you are at the hospital, ask hospital staff for help applying. 

I get medical assistance. Will this stop me from getting legal immigration status? 

No.  You can still get your green card or other immigration status. The exception to this is if you get long-term care in an institution, such as a nursing home.

*The current administration has talked about changing the rules for when receiving benefits can affect your green card eligibility, but they have made no changes at this time.  See When is it Safe for Immigrants to Get Benefits:  Public Charge Rules and Possible Changes.

I am not eligible for any medical assistance. Can I get any other help with medical bills?

  • If you get treatment in a hospital (not a clinic) and are low-income, the hospital may have to lower your bill. See “Charity Care:” Medical Coverage for Hospital Based Medical Services.  

  • You can get treatment for a low or reduced fee from a community health clinic.

  • You can buy private health insurance. You cannot buy it on the health benefits exchange (“Healthplanfinder”). You cannot get federal subsidies or tax credits to help pay for it.   

Some of my family are lawfully present immigrants. Can I get medical coverage for them if I am not eligible?

Yes. You can still apply for coverage for your eligible family members. Example: Many parents who are ineligible for medical assistance can get assistance for their lawfully present or U.S. citizen children. 

What if I believe I am eligible for medical assistance but my application was denied?

You can do both of these:

  • Request a hearing.

  • Contact a legal services lawyer for advice.

Representing Yourself at an Administrative Hearing has more info.


This publication provides general information concerning your rights and responsibilities.  It is not intended as a substitute for specific legal advice.  This information is current as of January 2018.
© 2018 Northwest Justice Project — 1-888-201-1014.

(Permission for copying and distribution granted to the Alliance for Equal Justice and to individuals for non-commercial purposes only.)


Last Review and Update: Jan 18, 2018