Human Services Committee co-chairs Sen. Matt Lesser and Rep. Jillian Gilchrest Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

The legislature’s Human Services Committee received on Tuesday more than 700 pieces of written testimony in support of a bill that would extend Medicaid coverage to otherwise eligible residents up to 25 years-old regardless of their immigration status. 

The bill, which was raised for a public hearing this week, builds on 2022 legislation that made children of non-citizen immigrants up to 12 years-old eligible for Connecticut’s Medicaid program, known as HUSKY Health. According to the state Department of Social Services more than 2,000 people had enrolled in the program since. 

This year’s bill pushes that eligibility up to 21 by next January and up to 25 by next June. The change would apply to young people who would otherwise qualify for the program but for their immigration status. 

a green button that says support and red button that says oppose

The legislation received an outpouring of written support ahead of Tuesday’s mid-day public hearing and more than 200 signed up to speak in person at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford. However, officials from Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration opposed the change because the governor had not planned for the additional expense in his budget proposal.  

Yanidsi Velez, New England regional director of the Hispanic Federation, said that undocumented immigrants in Connecticut paid around $145 million dollars every year in state and local taxes but are not eligible for the state health insurance exchange or Medicaid and Medicare.

“Immigration status should not prevent anyone from accessing healthcare or surviving,” Velez said. “Investing in healthcare for immigrant communities is an investment in the future of Connecticut and will reduce healthcare costs in the long run. Savings to hospitals from reduced uncompensated care costs could amount to roughly $63.3 million.”

The Connecticut Hospital Association submitted testimony in support of the bill saying that state hospitals provide care to patients who walk through their doors, regardless of immigration status or the patients’ ability to pay for the care. 

“As is the case with other uninsured individuals, they may delay care or forgo care entirely until their condition requires emergency department visits or hospitalizations,” the hospital association wrote. “These services, which are avoidable if care is provided earlier, may ultimately be covered by Medicaid at significant taxpayer expense.”

Department of Social Services officials Gui Woolston and Peter Hadler Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

But while the change may be cheaper for taxpayers in the long run, the state Department of Social Services opposed it during Tuesday’s hearing. Gui Woolston, DSS’s director of Medicaid and Division of Health Services, said the agency appreciated the bill’s intent, but expected that expanding Medicaid coverage would cost at least $15 million. Those funds were not included in the budget which Gov. Ned Lamont proposed last week, Woolston said.

Meanwhile, the agency remains unsure whether the funds set aside to pay for last year’s expansion would be adequate

“[T]he Department believes that any further expansion of the program is premature until there has been an opportunity to take stock of the program in its current form and, as noted previously, such an expansion would come at a cost not contemplated in the Governor’s proposed budget,” Woolston said “Accordingly, the Department must oppose this bill.”

During the hearing, Rep. Michelle Cook, D-Torrington, worried that in some circumstances, receiving benefits may preclude an immigrant from ever qualifying for citizenship. Cook said she did not want to see the legislature set immigrants up to disqualify themselves. 

Peter Hadler, director of DSS’s Division of Program Oversight & Grant Administration, said benefit eligibility and its impact on citizenship was a confusing area of law. However, he believed that recent changes to the law should enable residents to qualify for Medicaid without risking future citizenship. 

“Receiving medical assistance like state HUSKY is not supposed to be a consideration anymore,” Hadler said. “I want to just clarify that because there’s been some really big changes to the historical interpretation that has recently been applied around what types of benefits can affect your citizenship eligibility.”