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Laura Marenco

I’m an Immigrant Without Health Insurance. Where Can I Get Low-Cost or Free Medical Care?

DISCLAIMER: Besides the links pertaining to our own products and services, Golden Beacon USA does not endorse nor is it affiliated with the companies, organizations or agencies and/or their products or services whose links are included in this post. In addition, we cannot control or guarantee the accuracy or completeness of the information contained in these links. Golden Beacon USA does not earn commissions from any of these entities. The following is not intended to be medical or legal advice and should not be construed as such.



The coronavirus pandemic has laid bare many inequities in the United States, including the gap in medical care for those with insurance and those without. To make it even worse, immigrants, especially the undocumented, struggle to understand America’s complex health system. Furthermore, this population may be on a limited budget, thus precipitating the need for free or low-cost medical services. That’s where we come in.

As a helping hand in your new land, our services help you understand the culture and processes of the United States. Today, we are going to talk about health insurance in America: what it is and alternative options for free or low-cost medical care for immigrants. Unlike other countries, such as Canada, where every citizen is guaranteed paid health insurance, America’s individualistic, pull-you-up-by-your-bootstraps culture leads to the endless discussion of making healthcare affordable to everyone in the country versus only to those who can afford it.




According to healthcare.gov, health insurance is a contract between you and your health insurer wherein the health insurer is required to pay some or all of your medical care costs in exchange for a premium, or the amount you pay for your health insurance every month. Health insurance provides access to medical care for both physical and mental health and substance abuse such as alcoholism or drug addiction. Everything medical – from a yearly dental checkup to surgery to counseling to hospital stays while giving birth – costs a lot in the U.S. Americans mostly get health insurance through their employers or the healthcare marketplace put on by the federal government, which will be discussed in detail later on in this post. Dental insurance, which pays for visits to the dentist and dental procedures/services, is separate from medical insurance.




Your health insurance coverage will differ according to the policy you buy. In general, most health insurance policies cover preventive services, or screenings that can detect disease or help prevent illnesses or other health problems. Health insurance coverage does not mean every visit or medical service you engage in is free. You may be required to pay the remaining balance after your health insurance pays its part for the services. For a detailed breakdown of health insurance coverage, including copayments, premiums, and deductibles, check out this primer: https://familydoctor.org/health-insurance-understanding-covers/




Paying medical expenses out of pocket, or the amount you pay on your own because the service is not covered by your insurance or is only partially covered, can be debilitating for some families and put them in debt. However, you have other options both at the state and community-levels to seek free or low-cost medical care. You should take advantage of these options and get medical treatment when necessary, especially if you are sick or think something is wrong.

Explore the following options to find the care you need, can afford, and are qualified for:




Supported by the government, community health centers provide efficient primary care at an affordable cost. A primary care practice is a patient’s first exposure to the healthcare system and serves as an individual’s source for complete health care services. Primary care doctors do not have a specialization, unlike an OBGYN (obstetrician/gynecologist) or a surgeon, but are trained to recognize symptoms, diagnose illnesses, and provide care for patients or refer them to a specialist, if needed.

Primary care includes health promotion, disease prevention, health maintenance, counseling, patient education, diagnosis and treatment of acute and chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, asthma, heart and lung disease, depression, cancer and HIV/AIDS, in a variety of health care settings. Seeing your primary care physician at a community health center is much cheaper than a visit to your local hospital’s emergency department. These community health centers also can provide translation services to their patients.

Find a community health center near you using this tool: https://findahealthcenter.hrsa.gov/




Though this option is NOT low-cost or free, you can visit your closest hospital’s emergency department if you are in dire, urgent need for medical attention. Under federal law, hospitals that receive support from the federal government (as most do) are required to care for patients who need emergency care, regardless of their immigration or health insurance status. Shortly after your stay, you will receive a bill for the services. Without health insurance, these bills can be very high, depending on the care you received in the hospital. Hospitals are only required to provide care until the patient is stabilized, or, in other words, the patient’s condition has not gotten worse or deteriorated. Hospitals must also create a release plan for you for when you leave the hospital.

Because emergency departments do not require an appointment, you may wait a long time to be seen by a doctor if there are many other patients in the ER that day. When you arrive at the ER, a triage nurse will ask you for your symptoms to determine the severity of your situation. If other patients have more serious injuries or illnesses that require immediate attention, they will be seen before you.




There are almost 3,000 local health departments in the United States whose sole purpose is to ensure the health and well-being of a community. Most local health departments serve diverse communities who struggle with resources. More than two-thirds of local health departments provide the following core services:

  • Adult and childhood immunizations
  • Prevention and control of communicable diseases, or those caused by viruses or bacteria like the flu or colds
  • Community outreach and education
  • Epidemiology and surveillance
  • Environmental health regulation such as food safety services and restaurant inspections
  • Tuberculosis testing
  • Family planning (birth control, pregnancy counseling, and clinical tests including breast exams and tests for sexually-transmitted diseases)

Local health departments are associated with the health department of the state in which it resides. You can find a local health department in your city, town, county, or township. You may also find combination health departments that cover both the city and the county or multiple counties. However, please be advised that not all units of local government have health departments.

Find a health department near you using this guide from the National Association of City and County Health Officials (NACCHO) where you can search by your state or zip code: https://www.naccho.org/membership/lhd-directory





There are various health insurance programs provided by the federal government; however, a person’s eligibility for each varies according to their immigration or citizenship status. Unauthorized immigrants are not eligible for federal health insurance programs but may be eligible for more discrete programs like emergency medical assistance under Medicaid, services in federally qualified health centers and certain public health programs. ‘Dreamers’, or undocumented immigrants who are permitted to stay in the U.S. under DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals law, are not eligible for federal health insurance programs.


The Affordable Care Act


In 2010, Congress passed the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare (for then-President Barack Obama) which established the online health insurance marketplace at healthcare.gov. Here, you can search for health insurance programs that fit your needs and your budget. The Act extends health insurance to more than 30 million uninsured people, primarily by expanding Medicaid (see next section) and providing federal subsidies to help lower- and middle-income Americans buy private coverage. Those who do not acquire coverage have to pay a fine, which is a certain amount of money based on a percentage of your household income. With the online marketplace, you can avoid such fines by enrolling in plans that provide Minimum Essential Coverage (MEC).

Only lawfully present immigrants qualify for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. This includes humanitarian entrants, victims of trafficking and certain immigrants with permission to live and work in the U.S. In addition, children are covered by the parent or legal guardian’s health insurance plan until they are 26 years old or until December 31 of the year they turn 26.


Non-Emergency Medicaid & Emergency Medicaid


Medicaid is a federal and state program that helps with medical costs for some people with limited income and resources. Citizens and qualified immigrants, including lawful permanent residents (green card holders), asylum-seekers, refugees, and victims of domestic violence and trafficking, are eligible to receive non-emergency Medicaid. Qualified immigrants must meet certain financial criteria. They also have to wait 5 years after their admittance date to the U.S. before they can obtain Medicaid, though some with certain statuses, such as an asylee or refugee, may be exempt from this requirement. It is up to each state to decide if it wants to extend or limit public benefits to immigrants, including whether or not to cover all lawfully present children and pregnant women without imposing the waiting period.

In addition, there is an option for Emergency Medicaid for those who do not qualify for regular Medicaid or have no health insurance. Citizenship or immigration status do not matter for obtaining such benefits. As the name suggests, a person’s medical expenses are paid for only in an emergency situation, where the person must be admitted to the hospital due to the sudden onset of acute symptoms and puts his or her life or health in immediate danger. Immigrants cannot apply for this benefit beforehand, but the hospital staff will be able to assist you with applying during your hospital stay. One requirement when applying for Emergency Medicaid is to submit a doctor’s note proving your situation was an emergency. Your family can also apply for Emergency Medicaid on your behalf by visiting their local social services department to apply or by applying online. If time is not of the essence, you can apply for these benefits by mail, but this usually takes substantially longer. To qualify for this benefit, you must meet the requirements for regular Medicaid: a certain income level, age, and ownership of property.


Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)


Parents whose income level disqualifies them from obtaining Medicaid but who need healthcare coverage for their children can apply to the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). This program provides health insurance coverage to low-income children under age 19 based on their household income. CHIP programs vary by state; some serve as an expansion of the state’s Medicaid program, a standalone insurance program, or a combination of the two. Legal immigrant children residing in the U.S. on or before August 22, 1996 are eligible. If children legally entered the U.S. after this date, there is a 5-year waiting period similar to that of Medicaid. Refugees are eligible for the first 7 years of residence. Like Medicaid, each state decides whether or not provide benefits for all lawfully present children and pregnant women, so check with your individual state to learn more.

For an overview of immigrant eligibility requirements federal programs, please visit https://www.ncsl.org/research/immigration/immigrant-eligibility-for-federal-programs.aspx




These health care clinics are free and available at many large medical or dental schools. Here, a current medical or dental student provides you with healthcare services while being supervised by physicians who are part of the university’s faculty. According to the National Association of Free and Charitable Clinics, these types of clinics (including charitable pharmacies) provide a range of medical, dental, pharmacy, vision, and/or behavioral health services to the medically underserved and those with limited economic resources, regardless of the patient’s ability to pay. Some of these clinics may charge a small or sliding scale fee to patients. A sliding scale fee is a discounted fee based on a person’s income, meant to assist those who do not have the money to pay the full fee for the service. Only the uninsured, underinsured, and those who have limited to no access to primary, specialty, or prescription healthcare are eligible for these types of clinics.

To find a clinic near you, use this link to search by your city and state or zip code: https://www.nafcclinics.org/find-clinic




Check with your college or university about their health insurance plans for students. These plans are similar to those provided by employers in the U.S. and because the school pays the majority of the total cost for the plan, the premiums you have to pay will be lower. Student health insurance is usually more affordable and offers better quality options than those provided by private companies or the federal health insurance marketplace. These plans also qualify as Minimum Essential Coverage, which you need in order to avoid fines for not obtaining health insurance coverage.


Having health insurance for you and your family is a necessity in the United States. For those who cannot afford to buy health insurance, I hope these suggestions help you obtain the medical care you need at a price you can afford. If you have any questions or need assistance, please e-mail me at laura@goldenbeaconusa.com. Through our Resource Referrals program, we can help you find healthcare resources in your specific community and accompany you on appointments if needed. Please don’t hesitate to reach out and I will be happy to help you find what you need!




  • https://www.healthcare.gov/medicaid-chip/childrens-health-insurance-program/
  • https://www.aafp.org/about/policies/all/primary-care.html
  • https://www.primarycare.theclinics.com/article/S0095-4543(16)30062-8/pdf
  • http://affordablehealthca.com/timeline-obamacare/
  • http://www.nachc.org/about/about-our-health-centers/what-is-a-health-center/
  • https://www.healthcare.gov/immigrants/coverage/
  • https://health.usnews.com/wellness/articles/2016-11-02/where-can-undocumented-immigrants-go-for-health-care
  • https://www.fairview.org/patient-education/85339
  • https://www.astho.org/Public-Policy/Public-Health-Law/Access-to-Care-for-Immigrant-Populations-Overview
  • https://www.ncsl.org/research/immigration/immigrant-eligibility-for-health-care-programs-in-the-united-states.aspx
  • https://auglaizehealth.org/about-us/what-does-local-health-department-do-your-community
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK221185/
  • https://www.medicaid.gov/state-overviews/scorecard/breast-cancer-screening/index.html
  • https://mymedicare.com/medicaid/emergency-medicaid/
  • https://health.usnews.com/wellness/articles/2016-11-02/where-can-undocumented-immigrants-go-for-health-care
  • https://www.ncsl.org/research/immigration/immigrant-eligibility-for-federal-programs.aspx
  • https://www.ncsl.org/research/immigration/immigrant-eligibility-for-health-care-programs-in-the-united-states.aspx
  • https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/state-and-local-health-departments
  • https://auglaizehealth.org/about-us/what-does-local-health-department-do-your-community
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK221185/
  • https://auglaizehealth.org/nursing-division/family-planning-clinic

Free COVID-19 & Mental Health Courses from the Kura Foundation

Our friends over at DaFero, a social enterprise supporting vulnerable women through life skills and workplace training, have released educational modules on COVID-19 and mental health through their Kura Foundation. All lessons are free of charge.

These modules are professionally reviewed and provide important information about coronavirus and how to protect oneself. Besides English, the lessons are translated into the following 6 languages:

  • Arabic
  • Polish
  • Hausa
  • French
  • Spanish
  • Kurdish

To access these modules, click here and here.

I hope you are all doing well and staying safe!


Laura Marenco

Founder, Golden Beacon USA

5 Ideas For Being Productive at Home During the Coronavirus

DISCLAIMER: Besides the links pertaining to our own products and services, Golden Beacon USA does not endorse nor is it affiliated with the companies and/or their products or services whose links are included in this post. In addition, we cannot control or guarantee the accuracy or completeness of the information contained in these links. Golden Beacon USA does not earn commissions from any of these companies.

Going crazy during your self-quarantine? You’re not alone. There’s a whole world out there grappling with day-to-day life coming to a sudden halt. But in addition to sleeping and bingeing on Netflix, here are some ideas for passing the time and most importantly, feeling very satisfied with your productive self:

Take an online class and learn something new — or refresh the skills you already have.

Online learning has revolutionized the way in which people acquire knowledge and skills in both their personal and professional lives. Many sites, such as Skillshare and Udemy, have popped up in response to those seeking opportunities for learning on their own schedules. Below I’ve rounded up the top places for online classes and their price range:

  • Skillshare: Explore videos on a variety of subjects, from the creative – illustration, web development – to business – entrepreneurship, marketing – to lifestyle topics, including languages and health and wellness.

Pricing: Free membership to watch any of the free classes or upgrade to a premium membership for to access all of the classes on the site.

  • Udemy: Currently offering more than 150 courses, you can connect with expert instructors from around the world to improve or learn new skills. Topics range from business and IT to design and personal development such as learning how to read tarot cards or becoming a life coach.

Pricing: A little pricey but depends on the individual video. Pricing ranges from $50 – $200 per video.

  • Coursera: This website focuses on providing professional training and development courses from leading universities and companies. You can even earn a certificate or bachelor’s or master’s degree. Learn anything from English to Business Foundations to Anatomy to Self-Driving Cars. Enroll in a specialization to master a certain career skill.

Pricing: You can join for free. Price varies according to the track you choose – course, specialization, professional certificate, Mastertrack certificate (fundamentals of a Master’s degree), or degree. Auditing a course for free is available in some instances or you can apply for financial aid or scholarships to help you pay for your courses.

  • LinkedIn Learning: Have a profile on LinkedIn, the networking site for professionals? The company has launched LinkedIn Learning, an online educational platform with more than 5,000 courses taught by expert instructors. Subject fields include business, technology, and the creative. When you complete a course, you can add your accomplishment to your LinkedIn profile and attract job opportunities.

Pricing: You can choose from a monthly or annual plan. Monthly is $29.99/month while the annual plan offers a slight discount at $19.99/month.

Work on your ESL skills.

Learning English is one of the key skills to survival in America. Taking the time to practice it can only make perfect! Since most on-site ESL classes are cancelled right now, take advantage of these virtual opportunities:

· Have a friend who is a native English speaker or has perfect English? Ask him or her if you can practice your skills through video chat.

· Golden Beacon USA offers customized ESL tutoring through Zoom and Skype! We start with an evaluation and then create a specialized learning plan for you to improve your reading, writing, and speaking skills. Contact us today for more details!

· Access free ESL handouts and worksheets online to test your knowledge. YouTube is also a great resource for videos on learning the English language. These two sites provide an exhaustive list of practice activities for both kids and adults at all levels of their ESL journey.

· Go old school and make flashcards to practice your English vocabulary. Label items around the house and test your knowledge!

Learn more about your community to make it feel like home.

Even if you are not new to the area, it never hurts to find out more about the culture, resources, and activities available to you. In addition, you will be better equipped to find what you need during this very difficult time.

Check out our orientation e-learning videos on American culture and the metro Washington, D.C. area. Each video comes with a script translated into Spanish and Chinese and you can test your knowledge at the end with a fun quiz.

You can also visit the website of your county, city, or state to learn about:

o The school system and its enrollment requirements

o Departments and agencies, such as health or family services

o Arts and entertainment

o Taxes and how to pay them

o Libraries

o Public transportation options…and more

Legitimate county, city, and state website addresses end in ‘.gov’ because they are run by the local government (of the county or city) or the government of the state.

TripAdvisor is another great resource to learn more about the United States. Though travel is not advised at the moment, you can still use this site to find short historical and cultural summaries of popular places in the country. You can explore attractions from the comfort of your own home!

Make or adjust your household budget.

It may have shocked you to learn how high the cost of living can be in the United States when you moved here. Creating a household budget and sticking to it, especially now, is important for easing your financial anxiety.

Check out the 7 best budgeting apps for 2020 as ranked by NerdWallet.com. Most of them are free.

If you’re weary of linking your accounts to an app or don’t wish to budget online, there are free budget calculators out there such as this one and this one. If none of those are to your liking, a good ol’ Microsoft Excel spreadsheet can also help you to plan out your finances.

Dust off your resume and edit it.

In the midst of this economic crisis, you may not think it is important to update your resume since no one seems to be hiring right now. However, if you have been laid off or facing reduced hours at work, having a resume prepared will get you one step ahead in finding a temporary job or an online job should you want one.

Have a skill that can be done over the computer? Find freelance work through sites such as Fiverr and LinkUpFlexJobs is another option, but requires a membership to access the full job listings in their database. Pricing starts at $14.95/month and you can cancel anytime. Right now, they are running a 50% off deal on membership prices through April 30th. And remember, searching for jobs on LinkedIn and using your social networks are great places to find work as well.

When you find a position you’d like to apply for, tailor your resume to the individual job. One size does not fit all. Read over the qualifications and duties expected of the job candidate. This will help you to identify keywords. Then, match those keywords to your skills and knowledge as you write your resume. For freelance work, you may have to write a proposal, or a document that outlines what you understand to be the problem the employer faces and how you plan to solve it. For more information, this site provides a good explanation.

If you need help with writing your resume, cover letters, or proposal, we offer career coaching sessions over the phone or video chatClick here for more details.

We hope these suggestions help you pass the time while life is at a standstill. Thank you for protecting your community by staying home and above all, stay safe!

In Today’s America, It’s OK to Hate

What Has Happened to America?

Since the 2016 election, America has been under an eternal cloud of darkness. Every day is yet another story about hate, racism, unfair advantages, denial of the rights of the most vulnerable –  it’s enough to make life seem hopeless and depressing. I am grateful that my three-year-old daughter and newborn son are too young to understand what is happening and I’m relieved that I don’t have to explain it to them.

In ten years, however, when this time period comes up in their history classes, there will be a need for explanation. How will this taxing moment in time be characterized in textbooks? As a time when all of America’s hateful underbelly came to the surface? When vulnerable people seeking a better life were no longer seen as people but as terrorists? When our democratic processes were threatened? Or will they gloss over all of it and paint the Trump administration’s policies as necessary and warranted to combat the supposed war on America being forged by non-whites? Regardless of the description, history will certainly teach my children one thing: that this was a time when displaying hate became socially acceptable again.

Though hate has existed since the beginning of time, today’s climate harkens back to the same forms of discrimination faced by African Americans in the 1950s and 1960s. The fear of ‘the other’ that led to the creation of separate but equal facilities. The disgusting use of racial slurs. Although we no longer have separate but equal facilities, this principle still exists in the hearts and minds of so many. If you’re a white refugee/asylee/immigrant, the American Dream is yours. If you’re not white and you come to the United States seeking protection, refuge, and a better life, you have many more hurdles to overcome to achieve that same dream. Specifically, others’ fear of encroachment on their country, which fueled the ban of immigrants from Muslim countries and separated children from their parents at our country’s southern border in 2018. These inhumane policies are supported by the population who had enough clout to vote Trump into office. And they continue to be OK with their president relaying their hate this way.

In 2015 when I created Golden Beacon USA, an organization aimed at helping immigrants assimilate into the United States, the country appeared to be on a more positive path. Immigration was treated as a humanitarian effort helping those most in need. Immigrants enjoyed more opportunities to stay in our country with policies such as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Central American immigrants did not have to worry about losing their temporary protected status and being deported back to their home countries. The American Dream was more within reach.

Now, with the election of Donald Trump, our country and culture has experienced a complete turnaround: people are now free to be blatantly hateful and proud of that behavior, as if the uncool kids at school have overthrown the popular kids and climbed to the top of the social ladder. Branding yourself as a white supremacist is no longer frowned upon. The leader of the free world espouses hate without suffering any consequences, so why can’t the average Joe or Josie do the same?

Hate Begets Hate

All of this hate has spurred even more hatred. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, 2018 was the peak year for the number of hate groups in the United States. Extremism propelled the seven percent increase in hate groups between 2017 and 2018.1 This is not surprising as we are surrounded by stories of hate every day.

But how does the rest of the world, and more importantly, the people who want to immigrate here, see us? Are we known as the United Hate of America? My thoughts about our reputation were confirmed when a foreign vendor told me their company was very interested in helping me with Golden Beacon USA because she knows “what a hot topic immigration is right now in your country.” Upon hearing this, my heart sank and I felt embarrassed, not of something I had done, but of what our country has become.

America used to be a beacon of light guiding people to a better life. Now our immigration system and America in general has become a trainwreck that the world cannot stop gawking at. Through the actions of our president, who is supposed to represent the American people, the world now understands that in America, diversity is a value of the past and anyone attempting to attain the American Dream will be persecuted. Unlike the poem associated with the Statue of Liberty, America doesn’t want ‘your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free’ – we have enough of those here whom we are currently trying to push out.

All is not lost. A glimmer of hope came to me as I was researching organizations that serve the immigrant and refugee populations. The anti-immigrant policies of the Trump administration seemed to have the opposite effect on the American population by rallying people to form organizations and campaigns, such as ‘Hate Has No Home Here’ to help immigrants and refugees in this difficult time. This exploding call to action shows the world that we have different ideas of what our country stands for. Hate is not one of them.

1 “Hate group count hits 20-year high amid rise in white supremacy.” 20 Feb. 2019. Accessed on 13 March 2019. USA Today. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2019/02/20/hate-groups-white-power-supremacists-southern-poverty-law-center/2918416002/

Our Community Resources Workshop with Catholic Charities!

I was honored to team up recently with Catholic Charities Hogar Immigrant Services and Migration & Refugee Services to welcome newcomers to the U.S. and Prince William County, VA. Our first lesson focused on transportation options and major roads and highways so they can easily navigate around their new county. Such a great experience! Thank you, Catholic Charities!