This page will cover rights and resources for refugees in Greater Boston for the following topics:
- Health Insurance
- How to Apply for Insurance
- Health Care
- Preventive and Early Care for New Arrivals
- Primary Care
- Women’s Health
- Services for Survivors of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault
- Services for Survivors of Torture
- Elder Care
- Language Rights
If you are a refugee or have political asylum or withholding of deportation status, you may qualify for the same health insurance benefits as U.S. citizens. The type of insurance you may qualify for depends on how long you have had your refugee (or asylee) status. You also need to be able to prove residency in the state of Massachusetts.
Within 8 months of arrival – Refugee Medical Assistance (RMA)
Refugees (and asylees?) are entitled to short-term health insurance called Refugee Medical Assistance (RMA) for up to 8 months (after arrival or status granted?). (Some refugees may be eligible for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) which is available for several years).
After 8 months of arrival – Qualified Immigrants
If you are a refugee or have political asylum or withholding of deportation status, you and are considered a “qualified immigrant” for insurance purposes. Qualified immigrants can get the same health insurance benefits as citizens.
You are a qualified immigrant if you (an excerpt):
- Have been a legal permanent resident for 5 years, or more
- Have had parole status for 5 years, or more
- Are a refugee or have political asylum or withholding of deportation status
- Are a victim of severe forms of trafficking
- Are a victim of domestic violence
“Individuals who are not Massachusetts residents are not eligible for MassHealth or other health care benefits that are funded by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. If you are visiting Massachusetts for personal pleasure, such as for vacation, or for the purposes of receiving medical care in a setting other than a nursing facility, you do not meet residency requirements for MassHealth.”
“How do I pay for my health care?
In the U.S., you must pay for medicine and for each visit to the doctor. Health insurance may be able to help you cover these costs. Some people get private health insurance through their employers. Others get health insurance through the state of Massachusetts. Applying for health insurance will not affect your immigration status.
There are a few different types of health insurance in Massachusetts:
- Health Safety Net
- Commonwealth Care
To learn more about health insurance in Massachusetts or to see if you are eligible for state health insurance, visit Health Connector”
How to apply for insurance?
You can either get health insurance through your employer, or buy one in the market place. If you receive health insurance through your job, you should ask your employer for more information about your options. If your employer doesn’t offer health insurance, or you cannot afford your employer’s health insurance, you can buy a new health insurance plan through the Massachusetts Health Connector during the open enrollment period.
When is open enrollment?
Open Enrollment is the time of the year where consumers can buy a new health insurance plan or change their current plan. In Massachusetts, open enrollment for plans on the Massachusetts Health Connector is from November 1, 2017 to January 23, 2018. This open enrollment timeframe only applies to Massachusetts. Depending on your income and if you have a change in your household (including marriage, having children, and more), you may be able to apply for health insurance outside of Open Enrollment – you can always check in with our HelpLine for more information! However, we recommend enrolling in insurance during Open Enrollment if possible.
You can see what insurance plans are being offered, see how much financial assistance you are eligible for, and enroll in a health insurance plan on the Massachusetts Health Connector website: https://www.mahealthconnector.org
Immigrant Health Care Rights fact sheet (through health care for all)
Helpful chart of all statuses and eligibility!
Health Insurance – step by step | How to: a step-by-step guide to health insurance
1) Determine how long it is since the person submitted their application. If less than 8 months, they should be covered by the Refugee Medical Assistance. If more than 8 months have passed, they may need to purchase insurance through an employer or in the marketplace.
2) Determine whether the person has a job that offers health insurance, or whether they prefer to buy through the state/market. Note that the individual needs to show proof of MA residency in order to qualify for MASS health insurance
3) To purchase health insurance during open enrollment, and for more information on the type of health insurance that best fits you, visit Massachusetts Health Connector.
Preventive and Early Care for New Arrivals
As part of initial resettlement, refugees must be screened for communicable diseases and other health problems within 90 days of their entry into the U.S. Refugee Health Assessment services (RHAP) and and The Refugee Preventive Health Program (RPH) provide medical screening and testing, immunizations, referral to local health clinics, preventive care treatment, and health education. Read more in the resource box on the right.
The Refugee Health Assessment Program (RHAP)
As part of initial resettlement, refugees must be screened for communicable diseases and other health problems within 90 days of their entry into the U.S. Refugee Health Assessment services (RHAP), provided through an Interagency Service Agreement between the Massachusetts Office for Refugees and Immigrants (ORI) and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH), offers linguistically and culturally appropriate health assessment services which include: medical assessment and testing follow-up checkup immunizations referral to primary care
The Refugee Preventive Health Program (RPH)
RPH is part of the Division of Refugee Assistance. This program supports medical screenings in accordance with the Revised Medical Screening Guidelines for Newly Arriving Refugees (per ORR State Letter 12-09) and follow-up activities to newly arriving refugees. States and state-alternative programs and their designated health agencies receive RPH funding. RPH supports the following health services:
Health screening for contagious diseases
Preventive care treatment
Health assessments for chronic and other health conditions
Information and referral to local health centers/clinics and Medicaid providers
Follow-up services to ensure appropriate treatment
Refugee Health Promotion Program (RHPP):
Provides on-going individual health care access assistance to the newest refugee arrivals, preventive health information to refugee communities, and cultural information to mainstream agencies.
Read more at: https://www.mass.gov/ori-programs-and-services
Refugees have the same rights to primary care as other citizens. Because refugees may need different types of assistance due for example to past trauma or language barriers, there are several health clinics in the Greater Boston are that cater specifically to the refugee populations. These clinics can be a great first point of contact for further referrals as well. Many of these clinics provide assistance or referrals regarding mental health. For more information on mental health resources for this population, visit our mental health database. *Note also that many of these health clinics may provide screenings and affidavits in support of legal applications for asylum. Move to asylum*
Boston Center for Refugee Health and Human Rights (BCRHHR) has unfortunately discontinued taking in new refugee patients for primary care, but is still maintaining its case management of mental health patients suffering from past traumatic experiences like torture amongst refugee, asylees, and recent immigrant community.
“The Immigrant & Refugee Health Program provides comprehensive primary care services to immigrant and refugee health patients through our practice at the Shapiro Center at Boston Medical Center. Our team of clinicians takes care of general healthcare needs through regular check-ups, immunizations and screenings, as well as providing care for illnesses and injuries. Also, we will coordinate patient care if a patient needs to see a specialist for a more serious health issue. Our practice provides on-site interpreters and over the phone interpreters for more than 30 languages. We also offer access to psychiatric and case management support to provide support and care for the wide range of needs of our patients.
People who are new to Boston Medical Center should call at (617) 414-5612 to schedule a first appointment.”
Women may have special health care needs related to contraception, pregnancy, etc. As the refugee population may need different types of assistance, due for example to past trauma or language barriers, or help with particular issues such as female genital cutting, there are several clinics in the Greater Boston are that cater specifically to the refugee women.
Boston Medical Center’s Refugee Women’s Health Clinic.
Provides comprehensive and culturally sensitive women’s health services to refugee, asylum seeking, and recent immigrant communities in the Greater Boston area.
- Pregnancy and postpartum care
- Annual check-ups
- Gynecologic care
- Contraception counseling
- Surgical consultation
- Medical affidavit writing for patients seeking asylum
- Consultation regarding Female Genital Cutting.
No one is turned away because of lack of funds. We welcome people who may need support with health insurance and addressing transportation, food, and housing needs. Providers speak Spanish, French, and Haitian Creole.
African Women Health Center Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
*Call to see if supports asylum seekers or undocumented Immigrants*
Is the first and only African health practice in the United States that focuses on issues regarding female circumcision. Works to improve the health of refugee and immigrant women who have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM). The overall mission of the AWHC is to holistically improve the health of refugee and immigrant women who have undergone female genital cutting. It provides access, understanding and community to women who have long-term complications from this tradition and who seek reproductive health care. We speak numerous African languages and provide female interpreters when needed.
WIC is a nutrition program that provides free healthy foods, nutrition education, breastfeeding support, and referrals to healthcare and other services, free of charge, to eligible Massachusetts families.
You can participate in WIC if you:
- Live in Massachusetts
- Have a nutritional need (WIC staff can help you determine this)
- Are a child under 5, a new mom, or a pregnant or breastfeeding woman
- Have a family income less than WIC guidelines
Contact them at: (800) 942-1007.
Mental Health and Survivors of Abuse
In the United States, refugees are eligible for more services and benefits than other immigrant groups because they are recognized as having already demonstrated that they were either persecuted or feared persecution in their country of origin (Perreira et al. 2012). Many refugees live through traumatizing experiences prior to arrival in the United States. Trauma is “not [just] a past phenomenon but can be ongoing, with friends and family often remaining in refugee camps or combat zones” (Murray et al. 2010, p.578), nor is it limited to those immigrants with refugee status. Research suggests that “individuals who have experienced greater levels of trauma have a greater risk of developing psychological disorders after resettlement” (Murray et al. 2010, p.578) making the imperative to provide appropriate and affordable mental health care for all immigrant groups even greater.
Refugees in Massachusetts who are not eligible for MassHealth benefits can apply for Refugee Medical Assistance, temporary health insurance funded through the Office of Refugee Resettlement. The coverage is similar to Medicaid, but is available only for a limited time and only for those refugees who have been in the United States for less than 8 months (Department of Health and Human Services 2017). Despite the special federal programs and services for refugees, barriers to accessing insurance and services persist. This is due largely to language, literacy, and cultural issues. Refugees are often heavily reliant on organizations, friends, family (often children) to help with translation. Sensitive issues such as those related to mental health may be misinterpreted by untrained translators, or may not be communicated at all because of the lack of privacy inherent in translation (Perreira et al. 2012).
Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault, Child Abuse, Elder Abuse
All people have the right to safety and autonomy over their own body. Across Massachusetts, there are multiple organizations who provide free and confidential assistance to survivors of domestic violence or sexual assault, regardless of immigration status. Immigrants may be a particularly vulnerable group, as their immigration status is sometimes tied to that of a spouse, or because they may have experienced sexual violence during the /flight/ from their country. Several organization provide support and information specifically to refugee victims of domestic violence.
“In Massachusetts, local domestic and sexual violence programs provide free and confidential services to any victim or survivor regardless of your immigration status. Advocates are there to listen to your concerns and work with you to help you and your family live in safety and with dignity. Many of these programs are part of a network called RISE (Refugee and Immigrant Safety and Empowerment). The advocates in these programs provide education and outreach to particular ethnic communities on violence against women, sexual violence, and domestic violence. Additionally, these programs provide direct services to victims, from cultural and linguistic minority backgrounds, who have experienced domestic violence and/or sexual assault.”
Jane Doe is a statewide organization advocating for survivors of sexual and domestic violence, and have several resources for immigrants.
Casa Myrna is a Boston organization providing domestic violence awareness, as well as shelter and supportive services to survivors. Their services are available in both Spanish and English. Trained advocates offer confidential support, assistance with safety planning, direct connections to shelters and referrals to community services.
For support, assistance with safety planning, and information on appropriate resources, Call their toll-free SafeLink hotline at (877) 785-2020
Call SafeLink for:
- Safety planning resources for survivors to learn how they and their families can stay safe.
- A safe and confidential space in which to talk about your relationship or someone else’s.
- A direct connection to domestic violence programs across Massachusetts
- Referrals to local domestic violence and other community resources
- Support and resources for anyone who is concerned about a victim of domestic violence
- Information about domestic and dating violence
Services for survivors of Torture
Refugees may have experienced torture or other inhumane treatment, either as the reason for fleeing, or during the flight. Below is information on health care providers ad resources specifically for survivors of torture. Note that many of these organizations also can assist with an affidavit to support an asylum or immigration case in court.
The Services for Survivors of Torture program (SOT) – Office of Refugee Resettlement is committed to assisting persons who have experienced torture abroad and who are residing in the United States, to restore their dignity and health and rebuild their lives as they integrate into their communities. Services for Survivors of Torture Programs focus on physical, psychological, social and legal services for torture survivors as well as education and training of service providers.
Healtorture.org has created a new online resource center for programs serving torture survivors, individuals wishing to learn more about serving this population, and for survivors looking for information and services. Healtorture.org has also created an easy-to-use resource site for ORR related materials, forms and guidanceVisit disclaimer page.
The Boston Center for Refugee Health & Human Rights
Specializes in the care of people who have experienced persecution in their homeland. They accept people with and without insurance, and can help with medical and mental health services, as well as legal referrals and support groups.
Download their guide on health, legal, and social services, as well as life in Boston, and in the United States in general, here. For providers, see: http://www.bcrhhr.org/providers
–All hospitals are required to provide translating services to patients that cannot speak English, regardless of status and free of charge. Hospitals in the city of Boston like Mass general or Boston Medical Center have at least 20+ different languages spoken in staff at all times, and if a certain language or translator is not available then the hospital will call the designated translator for the particular language. Smaller health care facilities like clinics will employ staff that resembles the population being served. For example, where there is a dense population of Haitians it is typical for the clinic in such area to be equipped with staff members to translate creole, and French.