Unlike regular Social Security, which is a contributory insurance plan based on how long people worked and how much they made before retirement, S.S.I. is a welfare program for all citizens or resident immigrants who meet certain requirements of age, income or disability.
The number of elderly immigrants enrolled in the program has increased fivefold over the last 12 years. Now, more than a quarter of immigrants over 65 — and in some immigrant populations, almost half — receive S.S.I., at an annual cost of $2 billion.
By comparison, less than 10 percent of elderly United States citizens are in the program.
S.S.I. has, in fact, become something akin to a retirement system for elderly immigrants, who in many cases come from countries that have meager or nonexistent retirement systems. It is not believed to be the magnet that draws them here, since most come to join their children or other relatives who moved here first.
A legal immigrant can get access to health insurance coverage under the Medicare scheme, provided he or she has lived in the country for a minimum of five years. The individual must also be aged above 65 years in order to qualify for this clause stated by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. Under this clause, immigrants staying for at least five years and aged over 65 can buy Part A Medicare or hospital insurance for a monthly payment of $319, and Part B Medicare or medical insurance for a monthly cost of $54. In case such a person is eligible for this particular program, he or she cannot be rejected even if there is a presence of a pre-existing medical condition. It is easy to get a free health insurance quote applicable to this program online. Of course, this leaves a gap during the five-year period of lead time for which some solution must be found.
Most people age 65 or older who are citizens or permanent residents of the United States are eligible for free Medicare hospital insurance (Part A). Eligibility begins at age 65 if:
§ You receive or are eligible to receive Social Security benefits; or
§ You receive or are eligible to receive railroad retirement benefits; or
§ Your spouse is eligible; or
§ You or your spouse (living or deceased, including divorced spouses) worked long enough in a government job where Medicare taxes were paid; or
§ You are the dependent parent of a fully insured deceased child.
If these requirements are not met, it is still possible to get Medicare hospital insurance by paying a monthly premium. Usually, you can sign up for this hospital insurance only during designated enrollment periods.
While there are some options for elderly immigrants, they are very limited in nature. We hope that any Immigration Reform in 2014 address such considerations as well.