Access to Care

refugees meeting with physician

There are a variety of services and laws designed to make health care affordable, available, and understandable to refugees. This section provides you with information and resources to understand refugee rights and the laws governing health services.

The Affordable Care Act
In 2010, President Barack Obama signed into law the Affordable Care Act. This law expands health insurance options for many Americans as well as refugees. For example, it enables eligible adult refugees without children to have Medicaid coverage. The Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan, run by the Department of Health and Human Services (HSS) in 23 states and by state governments in the rest, offers relatively affordable coverage for people who have been uninsured for at least six months because of conditions such as diabetes or heart disease. The plan launched in the summer of 2010 as one of the first components of the health care reform. In October 2011, HHS announced new refined data standards for race, ethnicity, sex, primary language, and disability status.

Interpreter Services
It is essential that health care and related services are provided in a language and manner that the refugee can understand. Federal laws, such as Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, require federal agencies to implement systems to help those with limited English proficiency. In addition, some states have passed laws requiring competent medical interpreters in all hospital and mental health emergency rooms.

Paying for Health Care

Refugee families with minor children are eligible for the State-Federal programs that support families in need, in particular Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Medicaid. Refugees who do not qualify for these programs are eligible for Refugee Cash Assistance (RCA) and Refugee Medical Assistance (RMA) for their first eight months in the U.S. These refugee support programs are 100% federally supported. The eight-month period of eligibility begins either a) the date the refugee enters the U.S. with qualifying immigration status or b) the date the individual was granted a qualifying status by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) or the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR).


Berit entered the U.S. in February and was granted asylee status by USCIS on September 15. She applies for health care coverage in November. She meets all RMA requirements. She is eligible for RMA support through May 14.

With RMA, the refugee gets the same benefits package as a Medicaid recipient in that state. When the RMA expires (after 8 months), these refugees are treated the same as other low-income persons in their state in terms of their eligibility for medical insurance assistance.