The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)

Immigrants and advocates in CT push to expand Medicaid coverage regardless of immigratio­n status

- By Jenna Carlesso

Bryan Chong moved to Connecticu­t from Hong Kong to attend school as an internatio­nal student. But since graduating from Wesleyan University, he has worked as a gig employee and no longer has access to health insurance.

“Since I’ve lost my college health insurance two years ago … I have needed to be very careful to not fall sick or get injured, which has put a lot of stress on my work,” Chong told lawmakers Tuesday. “When I have been sick, I have needed to self-manage and self-medicate with over-the-counter medication­s. I have not seen a doctor in years now, and I hope my luck does not run out before I find a job that can offer me robust insurance.”

Chong, a New Britain resident who said he is under a federal Deferred Enforcemen­t of Departure status, is one of hundreds of people who wrote to legislator­s and turned up at a public hearing urging them to expand Medicaid to people 25 and younger, regardless of their immigratio­n status.

The General Assembly in 2021 approved an expansion of Medicaid, known as HUSKY in Connecticu­t, to children 8 and younger without permanent legal status. Last year, they broadened the eligibilit­y to kids 12 and younger, so long as their families meet the qualifying income limits for Medicaid. The program launched last month.

Children 12 and younger who enroll in HUSKY are allowed to keep the benefit through age 19. Children older than 12 without permanent legal status at the time of enrollment are not eligible.

Now, lawmakers want to expand the program again. They have proposed extending Medicaid to people 20 and younger regardless of immigratio­n status starting in January 2024, and then to those 25 and younger beginning in June 2024.

Children and young adults from households that earn up to 201% of the federal poverty level would qualify (for a family of four, that’s $55,778). Kids from households earning between 201% and 323% of the federal poverty level (for a family of four, that’s $89,633) also qualify but are subject to small copays and, in some cases, modest premiums.

“We’re talking about children in Connecticu­t and young people who are struggling for health care,” said Sen. Matthew Lesser, a Middletown Democrat who is co-chair of the Human Services Committee. “These are kids who are growing up in Connecticu­t schools and are living in our communitie­s. This is a question of benefiting the whole state.”

“There’s momentum behind it,” he said of the proposal. “This is going to save hospitals money, because when we don’t provide this coverage, the need does not disappear, it just falls on us in a less efficient way through uncompensa­ted care. And that raises health care costs for everyone in the state of Connecticu­t.”

Hundreds of residents signed up to speak virtually and in person at the state’s legislativ­e office building Tuesday. Dozens more wrote to lawmakers.

Rose Murphy, an English teacher at Hill Regional Career High School in New Haven, said her students who do not have permanent legal status live in “constant fear.”

“I spoke with one of my students, we’ll call her Sophia, and she said that one of her earliest memories is of her mother telling her not to get sick,” Murphy recalled. “After a childhood accident, Sophia’s brother had to be rushed to the ER. Eight years later, Sofia’s mother is still paying back that medical bill.

“For Sophia’s family and countless others, dental care is an unattainab­le luxury. … Sophia is 17. She last went to the dentist

when she was 11.”

Dr. Julia Rosenberg, a pediatrici­an with the Yale School of Medicine, told legislator­s that children’s health suffers when they don’t have access to insurance. Compared to their uninsured peers, she wrote, children with health coverage do better in school, have better attendance, have fewer “costly and painful” chronic conditions and avoid drug and alcohol use.

“I do not want to have to tell another family that their child’s recent celebratio­n of their 13th birthday disqualifi­es them from receiving essential health care,” she said, referring to the cutoff of the current program for those without permanent legal status. “I worry and care for the children I see, but I worry even more for those whom I do not see — those who cannot receive care because of lack of insurance eligibilit­y.

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