Immigrants and Healthcare

  • New Materials on Healthcare Coverage for Immigrant Families: Check out our new Healthcare Toolkit & Trainings web page for information about healthcare options for immigrant families.
  • Medicaid for Immigrant Children and Pregnant Women: New Mexico’s Medicaid program has eliminated the five year bar for children younger than 21 and pregnant women. While undocumented immigrants still cannot qualify for Medicaid, immigrant children and pregnant women in any lawful status can now qualify for Medicaid immediately if they meet the income requirements. If you are told by the local Medicaid office that you cannot get Medicaid because of your immigration status, please call us for help at (505) 255-2840.

In New Mexico, there are a variety of healthcare resources for immigrants. It can be difficult to figure out where to go because the rules about immigration status for public programs are complicated. This page provides basic information about important resources such as Medicaid, charity care programs, and clinics and hospitals that provide free or low-cost health services for immigrants. If you need assistance with locating the right resources to meet your health needs, please call our office at (505) 255-2840.

Medicaid provides free and comprehensive healthcare services. Starting on January 1, 2014, Medicaid will be expanded to over 160,000 more people in New Mexico, including an estimated 4,000 immigrants. Children, pregnant women, seniors and people with disabilities will also continue to qualify for the program.  Learn more about Medicaid here and get more informational materials at our Healthcare Toolkit & Trainings page.

Many immigrants can get Medicaid if they meet the income requirements. For example, children and pregnant women in any lawful immigration status can qualify for Medicaid immediately. Refugees, asylees, and victims of domestic violence can also qualify for Medicaid right away without a waiting period. Some other lawfully residing immigrants, with the exception of children and pregnant women, may be required to wait for five years before enrolling in Medicaid including many green card holders. This chart provides information about immigrants who qualify for New Mexico benefits programs.

Some people worry that receiving Medicaid can harm their chances of getting lawful permanent residency (a Green Card) or U.S. citizenship. In general, it is safe for any lawfully present immigrant to use Medicaid. One important exception is that for some immigrants, enrolling in Medicaid for long-term institutional care can be used as evidence that a person is a “public charge” risk. For more information, visit our Immigrants and Benefits page.

Undocumented immigrants cannot get Medicaid except in limited emergency circumstances (read more about “EMSA” below). However, many New Mexicans live in “mixed status” households. In these households, family members may have a variety of different immigration statuses –citizens, lawfully residing immigrants, and undocumented immigrants often live under one roof. It is important to remember that any person who qualifies for Medicaid can get coverage even if other household members cannot. For example, citizen children are qualified for Medicaid and undocumented parents, grandparents, and other caretakers can apply for Medicaid on the children’s behalf. The parents do not have to provide social security numbers or proof of their own immigration status during this process. For more information about how to safely apply for benefits, visit our Immigrants and Benefits page. If you are wrongfully asked for social security numbers or immigration status when you are applying for Medicaid on behalf of a child or other household member, please call us at 505-255-2840.

The Exchange and Healthcare Reform
The Exchange: Starting on January 1, 2014, nearly 200,000 people in New Mexico will be able to get low-cost health insurance through a new marketplace called the “Exchange”. Lawfully present immigrants can seek coverage and get financial help through the Exchange. Learn more about the Exchange and healthcare reform here and get brochures and handouts on our Healthcare Toolkit & Trainings page.

Undocumented immigrants cannot get health insurance through the Exchange, but parents may apply for “child only” plans for their children who are citizens or lawfully present immigrants. Children of undocumented parents may also qualify for Medicaid. For information on how undocumented immigrants can safely apply for benefits for their children, visit our Immigrants and Benefits page.

Do immigrants have to get health insurance? Lawfully present immigrants must maintain coverage under the new health law or they will have to pay a tax penalty at the end of the year. Undocumented immigrants do not have to pay a penalty for failing to maintain health insurance.

Children’s Medical Services
Children who cannot get Medicaid or other health insurance because of their immigration status may qualify for a program called “Children’s Medical Services” run by the New Mexico Department of Health. It provides insurance for children with certain chronic health conditions. These brochures in English and Spanish provide additional information.

Emergency Medical Services for Aliens (EMSA)
EMSA pays the cost of emergency medical care for people whose immigration status prevents them from qualifying for Medicaid. EMSA services are available only to people who meet all Medicaid eligibility criteria except for immigration status. EMSA covers the cost of emergency medical services, including labor and delivery, as long as you apply within 90 days of receiving the services. Medicaid is expanding to cover many more adults starting in 2014 which means that EMSA will also expand to more adults. For more information about EMSA, see our fact sheets in English and in Spanish.

County Indigent Funds
Most counties in New Mexico have indigent funds devoted to helping low-income individuals and families pay the cost of medical bills. Most New Mexico counties assist patients regardless of immigration status. Bernalillo County does not have an indigent fund; instead, the University of New Mexico Hospital offers UNM Care. For more information about indigent funds, call your county offices and ask about their indigent care program.

Hospital Charity Care Programs
Many hospitals have charity care funds that help the low-income uninsured pay medical bills. If you receive care at any hospital and are worried about your ability to pay, you should ask whether the hospital has a charity care or financial assistance program.

University of New Mexico Hospital (UNMH) offers a variety of financial assistance programs. The Center has compiled a summary of these programs. UNM Care resembles health insurance and is available to citizens and many lawfully present immigrants who are residents of Bernalillo County and have income below 3 times the Federal Poverty Level. While undocumented immigrants cannot qualify for UNM Care, they can get help with certain types of medical bills. UNMH offers a 45% discount off of all hospital bills for the uninsured. UNMH also offers limited financial assistance to certain low-income immigrants who receive emergency treatment, immunizations, or treatment for the signs or symptoms of a communicable disease. In addition, UNMH’s Maternity and Family Planning Clinic offers prenatal care to women, regardless of immigration status, on a sliding payment scale. To apply for assistance, call the UNMH Business Office at (505) 272-2521.

Presbyterian Financial Services provides medically necessary services for free or on a sliding scale to Presbyterian patients who have incomes up to three times the Federal Poverty Level. Financial Assistance is available to anyone regardless of immigration status. To apply for assistance, call (505) 923-6600 or 1-800-251-9292, or email The Center has compiled a summary of the financial assistance available at Presbyterian.

Community Clinics and Health Centers
There are many healthcare clinics and providers that provide free or discounted services to their patients, regardless of their immigration status. The Center has put together a resource list in English and Spanish of these health providers across the state. If you need more assistance with locating a resource, or know of any other resources that may be missing from this list, please call us at (505) 255-2840.


Applying for Public Programs
Immigrants who apply for benefits should follow the same rules as anyone else applying. Our How to Apply for Benefits page can help you get started. However, there are some special additional considerations for immigrant families. Immigrants can encounter special problems with documenting income, for example. For information on how to safely apply for benefits, please visit our Immigrants and Benefits page. If you experience difficulties applying that cannot be resolved with ISD, please contact the Center for assistance at (505) 255-2840.

Language Access
If you do not speak, write, read, or understand English, you have a right to receive services in a language you understand when you apply for public benefits like Medicaid and if you are using any medical facility that accepts Medicare or Medicaid or receives other federal funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Visit our Language Access and Public Benefits page to learn more about your right to an interpreter and to translated materials.

Emergency Care
Any patient who goes to an emergency department has a right to be provided with an appropriate medical screening examination to determine if she is suffering from an emergency medical condition. The Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) prohibits hospitals from denying necessary emergency care, including delivery of a child for a woman in active labor, on the basis of a person’s inability to pay. A patient who needs emergency treatment cannot be transferred to another facility unless she requests transfer or has been stabilized. While the hospital can ask about the patient’s ability to pay, it cannot delay treatment to make the inquiry. The person will later receive a hospital bill from the emergency room visit. But in most cases, there are financial assistance or charity care programs that pay the entire cost of emergency care – your immigration status does not matter. Ask the hospital whether you qualify for these programs.


We are committed to expanding access to high-quality healthcare for immigrants in New Mexico. Our advocacy includes:

  • Medicaid: Reducing enrollment barriers and ensuring that Medicaid offices only ask for information necessary to process applications. This includes making sure that forms do not request social security numbers or immigration status information for household members who are not requesting benefits for themselves.
  • Exchange: Advocating for consumer assistance programs that are culturally competent and provide accurate information to immigrant communities. Ensuring that new enrollment systems meet the needs of immigration families, including by providing language access and alternative ways to document income.
  • Hospitals: Encouraging hospitals to offer financial assistance programs that help all low-income patients, regardless of immigration status, and ensuring that they do a good job of publicizing these financial assistance options rather than sending immigrant patients to collections agencies when they cannot pay their bills. Ensuring the application procedures ask only for information that is necessary to process immigrant families’ applications.
  • Language Access: Ensuring that Medicaid and hospital programs make their services fully available to immigrant families, no matter what language they read or speak. Visit our Language Access page for more information on our language access advocacy.
  • Community Outreach and Education: Conducting regular community outreach and trainings to spread the word about healthcare resources for immigrants and learn about barriers to accessing care. This work includes collaborating with legal services providers and other advocates to learn about recurring problems and barriers for immigrants. We use these discussions to inform our continuing policy work.

The Center provides “Know Your Rights” training to community groups and advocates about immigrant access to healthcare and other public benefit programs. If you are interested in having the Center give a presentation to your group or organization, please contact us at (505) 255-2840 or email Trainings can be given in English or Spanish. Please note that we can only arrange trainings for groups of 10 or more people.