HARTFORD, CT —Proponents say legislators should get behind a bill to mandate access to health insurance for immigrants living in Connecticut because currently the cost of such care is being paid by all citizens.
The bill would prohibit certain health carriers from refusing to deliver, issue or renew health insurance policies based solely on immigration status.
“It’s simple and common sense legislation,” said Sen. Matt Lesser, who co-chairs the Insurance and Real Estate Committee. Lesser made the comment at a press conference trumpeting the legislation shortly before the Insurance and Real Estate Committee’s public hearing began.
“Right now if an immigrant has no insurance the cost of the health care they receive is shifted on to everyone else,” Lesser said.
Rep. Roland Lemar, D-New Haven, who is sponsoring the bill, said the legislation would actually lower the cost of health insurance because it would allow more people to purchase it.
“We can lower the cost for every taxpayer (by passing the legislation),” Lemar said. “You and I are paying for the cost now — we are subsidizing the system.”
Lemar said immigrants who are in need of health care still seek it and get it “but it comes at an extraordinary cost.”
Lesser said that legislators in support of the bill have been in discussion with officials from the Connecticut Insurance Department in an effort to craft a bill that would be acceptable to the industry.
Both Lemar and Lesser said they were also confident that the language of the bill would be limited enough in scope that it shouldn’t violate any federal guidelines concerning immigration policies drafted by the Trump administration.
So far the insurance industry is taking a wait-and-see approach to the legislation, despite assurances from proponents that there is nothing to worry about on the federal end.
“It is not clear if there would be some violation of federal law if carriers could offer insurance to undocumented residents,” Christine Cappiello, director of government relations for Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Connecticut, said in written testimony.
“We look forward to working with the committee on this proposal should it go forward,” Cappiello added.
Susan Halpin, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Health Plans, said her members are studying the bill. She, like Cappiello, said the main concern is making sure that it “complies with all federal and state laws.”
Testifying in favor of the bill was Carlos Moreno, state director of the Connecticut Working Families Organization.
“To deny the right to purchase or access health insurance to anyone based solely on immigration status is simply inhumane,” Moreno said. “More so, it’s bad economic policy for our state.”
Moreno cited a study from the New American Economy which found there are almost 130,000 undocumented immigrants who contribute about $145 million in state and local taxes to Connecticut ever year.
Also testifying in favor was Alexander Rodriguez, a community organizer with the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters’ Chipsa program, which advocates for justice for communities of color and low income communities.
A 2015 study done by Washington State University, Rodriguez testified, showed that “economically disadvantaged immigrant neighborhoods and non-English speaking Latinos are more exposed to cancer-causing air toxins than other racial groups in this country.”
Thus, healthcare for immigrants, Rodriguez said, is essential.
“Our immigrant communities need access to safe, accessible, and affordable healthcare, regardless of their status,” Camila Bortolleto, Connecticut Students For A Dream campaign manager, said.
“No person should be denied healthcare of face obstacles in obtaining the healthcare they need — especially not because of their immigration status,” Bortolleto said. “Our communities deserve the opportunity to be well, and to receive the proper care our bodies and minds need.”
The idea isn’t exactly breaking new ground.
In 2014, the legislature passed a law that allowed undocumented immigrants to earn drivers licenses. The stated goal then was to to get more of the state’s motorists registered and insured.