Immigrants, in Connecticut and across the US, are the most likely population to be uninsured. These are our workers, neighbors, and taxpayers. We’re all safer, healthier, and richer when everyone has health coverage. It’s the right thing to do for them, but if that’s not enough, it’s also the right thing to do for all of us.
People without health coverage tend to delay and forgo needed care, causing health problems to be identified later, when they are more difficult and more costly to treat. The uninsured are often unable to pay for their costly care, as they tend to have lower incomes and the prices charged uninsured patients are much higher than for other payers. Even if they get care, they are far more likely to empty savings accounts, have medical debt, have the bills sent to collections, and experience bankruptcy. They are often forced to rely on overcrowded emergency rooms for care, reducing the quality of care for everyone in the ER.
Covering all children is an exceptional investment in the future. Preventive care started early pays off for a lifetime. Children covered by Medicaid become healthier adults, including lower rates of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Expansions of Medicaid increased children’s access to healthcare and lowered preventable hospitalizations, chronic conditions, and mortality rates for vulnerable children. It also leads to better educational outcomes, less chance of family financial distress and bankruptcy, and increased employment and tax payments as adults.
Almost all (95%) foreign-born children in Connecticut are enrolled in school. Seven in ten immigrant adults, their parents, are employed and paying taxes. The children we don’t cover with healthcare, grow into the workers we will need in the future. Connecticut had 100,000 job openings in December but only 25,000 unemployed state residents. That gap is only going to grow as our population ages; we will need healthy, productive workers.
A new economic analysis from Rand finds that it would cost Connecticut about $10 million to cover children under HUSKY who qualify, regardless of immigration status. This cost would be offset by significant reductions in hospital uncompensated care and less need for emergency Medicaid payments. There is also the potential for a federal waiver to cover the costs. Six states and the District of Columbia have expanded Medicaid to children and pregnant women, regardless of immigration status. California, Illinois, and the District of Columbia have also expanded to some adults.
Over the last two legislative sessions in Hartford, policymakers expanded HUSKY for children who qualify for coverage, regardless of immigration status. First, they expanded to age eight, then last year to 12, allowing children enrolled to keep coverage until age 19. It’s a very good thing that will bring important relief to Connecticut families and underserved communities. But people are calling for more. Over 700 written testimonies were submitted and over 200 people signed up to speak in a public hearing this week on a bill to expand HUSKY to all children, regardless of immigration status, up to age 25 by next June.
But it’s been suggested that we have to go slowly and see how much the current expansions cost. Connecticut doesn’t usually have a problem going all in. Reductions in the gas tax benefit all drivers, eliminating plastic bags didn’t start with just some stores, and we were the first state to expand HUSKY coverage under the ACA as far as we could. Covering everyone who qualifies, regardless of immigration status, is a very good return on public investment, so why would we limit and delay those benefits for the families and the state.
Passing this bill is a smart investment in Connecticut’s future. Covering all children improves the health of future workers, lowers economic burdens on families and struggling communities, eases the strain on our health system still reeling from the pandemic, and provides relief from health and financial worries for Connecticut families. It makes sense.