Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie photo
Sen. Matt Lesser with Rep. Sean Scanlon and State Comptroller Kevin Lembo (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie photo)

HARTFORD, CT —A bill that mandates that health insurers cover immigrants living in Connecticut was voted to be drafted as a committee by the Insurance and Real Estate Committee Thursday.

It still needs to be forwarded to the House before the committee’s March 21 deadline.

Proponents claim the bill will actually save all residents in Connecticut money because currently the cost of health care for uninsured immigrants is being paid by all citizens.

The committee voted 9-7 along party lines to draft the bill, which would prohibit certain health carriers from refusing to deliver, issue or renew health insurance policies based solely on immigration status.

CLICK TO VOTE ON 2019 HB 6093: An Act Concerning Consideration Of Immigration Status By Health Carriers.

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“It’s not like people that would be covered by this bill aren’t currently seeking health care, going to hospitals,” Rep. Sean Scanlon, D-Guilford, said. “Currently folks seek health care and that drives up the uncompensated health care cost. If anything this bill might drive down the cost of overall insurance.”

Despite that pitch from Scanlon and other advocates not everybody on the committee bought it.

“I am just fundamentally opposed to this,” Rep. Kurt Vail, R-Stafford Springs, said. “I will be voting to oppose.”

But proponents worked hard to hammer home the message that the legislation, they believe, will actually save money for the state and everyone who pays for insurance.

At a press conference last week trumpeting the bill, Rep. Roland Lemar, D-New Haven, who is sponsoring the legislation, said: “We can lower the cost for every taxpayer (by passing the legislation). 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.”

During the public hearing, Deborah Brody, a registered nurse who has worked at several hospitals, hammered home that point.

“People who cannot get primary care because they are being denied health insurance will end up getting primary and emergency care in our emergency departments – the single most expensive environment we have,” said Brody. “The hospitals must amortize this cost by inflating the prices of all their other services.”

Sen. Matt Lesser, D-Middletown, 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.

Proponents 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 during a public hearing on the bill.

Susan Halpin, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Health Plans, said her members are also studying the bill. She, like Cappiello, said the main concern is making sure that it “complies with all federal and state laws.”

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.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story reported that it had been forwarded to the House when it had only been drafted as a committee bill.