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February 15, 2024

CT advocates rally for further expansion of HUSKY for immigrants

SHAHRZAD RASEKH / CT MIRROR Advocates rallied in support of HUSKY on February 14, 2024. “The main group we’re trying to get is kids,” said Sen. Matthew Lesser.

Supporters gathered at the Capitol on Wednesday morning to celebrate advances in securing Medicaid coverage for some undocumented children in Connecticut, but also to reiterate demands for further expansion this session.

“We all deserve health care, so that is what we are fighting for. And we want to continue to work with our legislators, we want to continue to work with this administration to get this done,” said Luis Luna, a coalition manager with HUSKY 4 Immigrants. 

The crowd of approximately 100 people included legislators, advocates and residents. They erupted into cheers of “Si se puede!” and “Yes we can!” as speakers called for continued expansion of coverage and deemed health care a human right. 

As of Jan. 1, 2023, qualifying children ages 12 and under can access Medicaid, known as HUSKY in Connecticut, regardless of immigration status. Pregnant people also have access to prenatal and postpartum care. On July 1, the eligibility threshold for children will increase to ages 15 and under. 

Those children will not only be allowed to enroll in the program — they also can keep the coverage through age 19. But kids older than 15 when the expansion begins will not be eligible. 

Still, nearly 60% of the roughly 113,000 undocumented immigrants in Connecticut have no access to any form of health insurance coverage, according to the HUSKY 4 Immigrants Coalition. 

Maritza Contreras arrived in Connecticut six months ago from Venezuela with her husband, Roger Serpa, and her two children, Jorma, 23, and Antonella, 6. Under the current eligibility criteria, her younger daughter qualifies for HUSKY, but the rest of the family does not.

Antonella has asthma that flared up after the family made their way to the U.S. With HUSKY coverage, Contreras was able to take her daughter to see a doctor.

“Our journey was a bit difficult. We went through the jungle, through many countries, and she has respiratory issues,” said Contreras. “She’s been able to see a doctor thanks to her health insurance.”

But, Contreras said she’s avoided going to the gynecologist and her husband has avoided much-needed dental work because they can’t afford the care without coverage.

The effort to extend Medicaid to children without permanent legal status has been a gradual and sometimes frustrating journey for many advocates. In 2021, legislators passed a bill opening the program to undocumented kids 8 and younger but delayed the launch until Jan. 1, 2023. In 2022, they broadened the population to include those 12 and younger.

Last year, a measure was introduced expanding it to everyone 25 and younger, regardless of immigration status. The Affordable Care Act allows children and young adults to remain on their parents’ insurance plans through age 26, and the idea was to mirror that policy.

But legislators settled on a pared back version, folded into the state budget, that extends Medicaid to kids 15 and younger regardless of their immigration status.

The measure also directed the state’s social services commissioner to study the cost and benefits of opening the program to those 25 and younger.

Legislative leaders said they are aiming to expand the age range to 18 and younger this year. The proposal will likely be included in the budget implementer, rather than a standalone bill.

In addition, Sen. Matthew Lesser, co-chair of the Human Services Committee, said he hopes to also extend Medicaid to students without permanent legal status who are enrolled at a college or university and have graduated from a Connecticut high school. It was not yet clear if the plan would cover part-time students or only those enrolled full-time.

“The main group we’re trying to get is kids. I think the question would be, if we’re phasing it to [age] 18, can we phase it to 22 as long as you’re actively enrolled, to stay on a bit longer,” Lesser said. “We want to keep the ball moving forward. We’re going up to age 15 already, and that is a win. It’s already a huge public health victory. But we want to keep the momentum going.”

“It remains a top priority of mine,” said Rep. Jillian Gilchrest, D-West Hartford, co-chair of the Human Services Committee. “It certainly will come down to the budget; there are a lot of competing interests. But seeing how well the expansion has gone … it’d be great if we can continue on and ensure all children in this state are covered.”

Gilchrest said she is also supportive of expanding coverage to college students.

“When you are in college, you have to have health insurance. The only choice for undocumented students is the college health insurance, which is fairly expensive. So that’s one avenue to continue the expansion,” she said.

Contreras hopes that by sharing her experience, supporters will ultimately win coverage for anyone of any age, regardless of immigration status. 

“I hope we can touch the hearts of legislators and the people in charge so we can make this change for everyone,” said Contreras. “I hope they will support us. I hope they will help us.”

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