But letters notifying individuals about the problems were sent only in English and Spanish. Immigrants who can't read either of those languages had no way of knowing that their coverage was jeopardized, according to the complaints. In addition, those consumers will likely be on the hook for repaying premium subsidies that they utilized to help pay for coverage prior to the cancellations.
The complaints were filed by the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) and the Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Associations Coalition (SEAMAAC) in Philadelphia on behalf of their clients. They are being represented by the National Immigration Law Center and the law firm Holland & Knight.
“Many of ICIRR's clients are low-income clients and are elderly or disabled,” the complaint from the Chicago-based group reads. “If these individuals lose their subsidies, they will not be able to afford the health insurance they need. To make matters worse, many clients submitted the requested immigration or citizenship documents, but for some reason these documents were not processed.”
Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally are prohibited from using the exchanges. But naturalized citizens and legal residents can seek coverage through the government-run marketplaces.
Individuals whose plans have been canceled can still file documentation to resolve the problem. They will then be eligible for a special-enrollment period of 60 days, according to a newsletter sent out this week by the CMS to outreach workers.
“That's not ideal,” said Thoai Nguyen, SEAMAAC's CEO. “CMS is not taking responsibility for completely failing on the language-access provision.”
Alvaro Huerta, a staff attorney with the National Immigration Law Center, also said it's unclear if the individuals whose plans have been canceled are being notified about this possible route for restoring coverage. “We're worried that the people that we're working on behalf of don't realize that this is available to them,” Huerta said.
HHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Follow Paul Demko on Twitter: @MHpdemko