Rep. Jillian Gilchrest, D-West Hartford

A proposal to extend Medicaid coverage to young Connecticut immigrants cleared the Human Services Committee Thursday after it was scaled back during more than two hours of closed-door negotiations. 

The bill would expand Connecticut’s Medicaid program, known as HUSKY Health, to the children of non-citizen immigrants until they reach 18 years old, assuming they meet the program’s other eligibility requirements. Currently, the cut-off for coverage of young immigrants is 12, as a result of legislation that passed last year.

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

This year’s bill had previously been written to allow eligibility up to 26 years-old. Lawmakers narrowed its scope after long negotiations among the panel’s Democratic members during a midday caucus. The new language requires a study to assess a later expansion of Medicaid up to age 26.

Rep. Jillian Gilchrest, a West Hartford Democrat who co-chairs the committee, called the bill a human rights proposal that would help compensate the providers in Connecticut who were already taking care of the population covered by the expansion.

“These are residents of our state,” Gilchrest said. “They work and live here, they go to school with our children and I think we should be doing everything possible to expand access to health care.”

But not all the committee’s Democrats were supportive of the proposal. Rep. Michelle Cook, D-Torrington, argued that good policy did not always make great sense. Although Cook said she wanted to ensure that all kids had health care, she felt the children covered by the bill would be better served by funding other policies like expanding school-based health clinics and federally qualified health centers.

“I’m very frustrated that we are pitting one population against another population and I’m very frustrated that I have to pick one child over another child when I recognize that the dollars are just not there,” Cook said. “I do not want to give false hope to somebody.”

Republicans made similar arguments against the bill, which will now head to the legislature’s budgetary spending committee, where lawmakers will decide whether it fits into their overall budget proposal. 

Rep. Jay Case, R-Winchester, said the Appropriations Committee did not have the funding to support a similar proposal last year.

“Now we’re going to push it to Appropriations, where they’re going to have to make the decision of which program they’re going to fund and which program they’re not going to fund,” Case said. “To me, giving false hope, I don’t think that’s the right thing to do even though this is a policy committee.”

Case argued that the Medicaid expansion would have to compete for funding against other fundamental human rights like an adequately supported education system.

During a hearing last month, representatives of the Social Services Department estimated that an earlier version of the bill, expanding eligibility to immigrants up to 26 years old, would have cost at least $15 million. Those funds were not included in the budget plan proposed by Gov. Ned Lamont.

During Thursday’s meeting, Rep. Anne Hughes, D-Easton, said the public testimony received by the committee during February’s hearing illustrated the human and financial cost of excluding immigrants from HUSKY eligibility.

“This committee must do something in terms of including all of its residents. We represent all of the residents of Connecticut, especially the children and I am not willing to be complicit in the policy violence of excluding anybody from care,” Hughes said.