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Advocates call for CT expansion of Husky health care budget to cover immigrant minors up to age 18

Guadalupe Escamilla is an immigrant from Mexico. Her kids have healthcare because they were born in the United States, but for other immigrants like herself Connecticut's HUSKY Health stops coverage at age 15.
Tyler Russell
Connecticut Public
Guadalupe Escamilla is an immigrant from Mexico. Her kids have healthcare because they were born in the United States, but for other immigrants like herself Connecticut's HUSKY Health stops coverage at age 15.

Advocates spoke before the Connecticut Appropriations Committee on Wednesday, pushing to include more immigrant children in the Husky Medicaid program.

The hearing before the budget committee witnessed a significant turnout, with 260 individuals offering testimonies supporting Husky expansion in the upcoming state budget. Advocates emphasized the need to close the coverage gap for immigrant and undocumented children aged 16 to 18.

Evelyn Alvarado, a 15-year-old from Guatemala, spoke out about the challenges immigrant families face in accessing health care in Connecticut. She shared her ordeal of falling sick with asthma without health insurance, stressing the financial strain, especially with her father's diabetes and high cholesterol.

“When I get sick, my parents get like really worried because I don't have health insurance, and they worry about how much money they will have to pay,” Alvarado said.

A hospital visit cost them $2,500, she said, underscoring the burden not only immigrant families, but many uninsured residents, encounter.

Looking ahead, Evelyn expressed her aspirations to become a nurse to continue helping her community by addressing health care disparities and ensuring equitable access to medical services for all residents, regardless of immigration status.

Evelyn's story is just one of many immigrant families struggling to get medical help. Advocates stress the need for health care access for all immigrants, citing their contributions and emphasizing health care as a fundamental human right, urging comprehensive inclusion in healthcare programs.

Constanza Segovia, a lead organizer with Hartford Deportation Defense and Connecticut for All, recently testified at the Human Services budget hearing regarding the proposed expansion of Husky coverage.

Segovia says it is difficult to come up with an estimated cost to cover the population between 15 and 18, but it could be approximately $4.5 million. While this may seem significant, she emphasized the long-term benefits of health care access to vulnerable communities, outweighing the minimal budgetary impact.

The latest state Department of Social Services report indicates that over 626,000 Connecticut residents are enrolled in Husky A, which provides coverage for pregnant women, children, and parents or caretaker relatives. This is followed by Husky D, which caters to residents aged 19 to 65.

However, experts emphasize that there are broader concerns beyond assisting immigrants, extending to everyone within the Medicaid system.

Dr. Kevin Watson, representing the Hartford County Medical Association and the Connecticut State Medical Society, highlighted the challenges physicians face due to inadequate Medicaid reimbursement rates.

“At the current rate of Medicaid reimbursement, which at times is below 60% of the 2007. Medicare rates for many physicians financially penalize those providing care to our most vulnerable population,” Watson said.

This affects patient care and physician retention in the state, he said.

“The subsequent smaller pool of physicians results in longer wait times and usage of emergency departments, driving up the cost of care to the Medicaid system,” Watson said.

CEO of Helping Hands Family, Fali Sidhva, addressed concerns regarding the accessibility of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy for children with autism under Connecticut Medicaid. He highlighted the distressing reality faced by many families who struggle to find providers willing to accept Medicaid due to inadequate reimbursement rates.

Luis Luna, a Husky for Immigrants coalition manager, emphasized the significance of expanding the Medicaid program and preventive health care in saving long-term costs. Despite challenges posed by low Medicaid reimbursement rates, Luna urged the committee to consider the fiscal responsibility of ensuring health care access for all residents.

Expanding Medicaid eligibility to include undocumented and legally present recent immigrant populations would boost insurance enrollment by around 21,400 people, a 43% increase compared to current enrollment, according to a 2022 study by RAM Corp. The estimated cost to the state for this expansion in 2023 is $83 million, the study found. However, this figure doesn't include potential savings from other sources, the report said, indicating that hospitals could save between $63 million to $72 million due to reduced spending on uncompensated care.

Maricarmen Cajahuaringa is a journalist with extensive experience in Latino communities' politics, social issues, and culture. She founded Boceto Media, a digital Spanish-language newspaper based in Connecticut. Maricarmen holds a Bachelor's in Social Work from Springfield College, and a Master's in Journalism and Media Production from Sacred Heart University. As a reporter for Connecticut Public, she is dedicated to delivering accurate and informative coverage of the Hispanic/Latino population in the region. Maricarmen is an experienced and passionate journalist who strives to bring a voice to the stories of her community.