Immigrant advocates slam Pritzker for cutting health care program for noncitizens
As of Saturday, people ages 42 to 64 no longer are eligible to join a Medicaid-like program for noncitizens. Those already enrolled will now have co-pays.
Doris Aguirre immigrated decades ago to Chicago, and still works in the area as a house cleaner.
Last week, she was diagnosed with cancer — hours before she attended a West Loop protest over cuts Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced last week to a state Medicaid-like program for residents without permanent legal status.
Residents like her.
Starting Saturday, people ages 42-64 no longer are eligible to enroll in the program, and those already enrolled will owe co-pays.
Aguirre, who now lives in the a western suburb, is 56 — but, luckily, already enrolled. Even so, the co-pays will be a heavy burden.
“Me, a woman who cleans houses all week, how am I going to afford this?” said Aguirre, listing all the follow-up appointments she now must schedule.
She broke into tears as she told a crowd of protestors about her diagnosis outside of the Illinois state office building at on the 500 block of West Monroe Street.
The group, which included dozens of people from several immigrant advocacy organizations under the Healthy Illinois Campaign, had hoped in vain to stop the cuts from being implemented.
Illinois had originally created the Medicaid-like program for seniors without permanent legal status in 2020 and expanded it to those ages 42 to 64 in 2022. It was the first state in the country to create such a program.
Pritzker had defended the cuts at a news conference earlier in the week saying his administration, the General Assembly and others had worked together “to provide this program for 63,000 people in the state of Illinois and we’re continuing to do that. In fact there’s room for a few more.”
But, “we need to make sure we’re living within our fiscal limits,” he said. “That’s something that wasn’t done for a lot of years in Illinois.”
Since Pritzker announced the impending cuts, community health workers have been scrambling to enroll people.
Sabida Martínez, a health worker with Little Village nonprofit Enlace, said the number of calls they receive has jumped by 70% and can feel like an almost around-the-clock operation. About a dozen people called after-hours and received follow-up calls the next day.
The native of Mexico decided to become a community health worker because of her own poor experience with health care in the U.S. after her husband had to go to the hospital for an emergency and when the bill arrived it was beyond what they could pay.
“That was very hard. I didn’t know how expensive it was here,” said Martínez, 50. “Even though my husband had a good job, it wasn’t enough.”
In addition to advocates with organizations such as HANA Center and Mujeres Latinas en Acción, the protest also drew faith and political leaders, including state Reps. Lilian Jimenez and Norma Hernandez and state Sen. Karina Villa.
“I’m the daughter of an undocumented mother,” Jimenez said. “I saw the impact that the program had on those who had never had health insurance.”
Pritzker’s move caught her and other Latino Caucus members by surprise. She said there had been discussions about the cost of the program, but she didn’t realize it would be cut so severely. Other cost-saving actions could have been taken before more drastic measures, she said.
The Rev. Emma Lozano, Aguirre’s pastor, also attended. She was the first person Aguirre told about her diagnosis, and she persuaded Aguirre to come, despite the news.
“What are the odds today she would get this news and ... they would cap the program?” Lozano said. “It was necessary for us to be here because these are life-and-death decisions that people are making.”