Ellen Andrews, Ph.D.

Last year, Connecticut policymakers made the smart and moral decision to provide HUSKY coverage to children from low-income families through age eight, regardless of immigration status, starting next year. It’s the right thing to do. It makes sense for the children and their families, as well as the rest of us. It’s a good start, but it makes more sense to cover all children.

There is nothing special about turning nine. Children still need healthcare as they enter big physical changes in their tweens and adolescence. On Thursday, the Human Services Committee will hold a public hearing on Senate Bill 284, which will increase HUSKY eligibility for low-income children to age 18, without regard to immigration status. They should pass the bill.

The COVID pandemic has highlighted how much our health is connected to our neighbors’ health. My sister and her family live in Toronto. During the COVID pandemic, and SARS before that, she hasn’t had to worry that the children playing with her children couldn’t see a doctor when they were unwell. Coverage for all children, regardless of immigration status, is a wise investment in Connecticut’s health.

Uninsured workers in Connecticut work in essential jobs preparing our food, caring for children and the elderly. Many of these workers, with families of their own, are recent immigrants to our nation, risking their health to provide critical care and services through the pandemic that keep our families healthy and safe. But with their taxes, these families support programs, like HUSKY, for which they don’t qualify.

The cost of private health insurance in Connecticut is not realistic for low-income families living paycheck to paycheck. Parents often can’t afford routine care that could prevent the need for far more expensive care later in life. When uninsured children need healthcare, as all children do, their parents sometimes have to delay care.

When the parents do finally access treatment, they may have to visit an emergency room, which is very expensive and adds to the crowding crisis in Connecticut’s crowded emergency rooms. Uninsured immigrants are usually charged full price for the care they need, far higher than the price of care provided to those of us with coverage. The resulting bills can wipe out a family’s savings and still not cover the full cost. In 2020, Connecticut hospitals provided $774 million in uncompensated care. Those extra costs are eventually paid by all of us in the form of higher taxes and higher health insurance premiums.

Under last year’s law, undocumented children until age nine will get critical healthcare starting next year, but the 8-year-olds will lose it a year later. And each year after, we will be causing thousands of children in our state to become uninsured. Before HUSKY passed, Connecticut raised the age of Medicaid eligibility for non-immigrant children incrementally every year until it reached age 18 for just this reason. Policymakers at the time knew it was wrong for children to fall off a coverage cliff just because they turned a year older.

HUSKY coverage is very efficient, costing far less and delivering far more than private insurance. Children are the lowest-cost age group in the program. There is no better place for Connecticut to invest in our state’s future.  The return on this investment is in better health for children, more financial security for their families, and healthier future workers. But it will also improve our collective public health and lower healthcare spending for all of us. It’s the right thing to do.

More from Ellen Andrews

Ellen Andrews, Ph.D., is the executive director of the CT Health Policy Project. Follow her on Twitter@CTHealthNotes.

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