Before the pandemic, Carlos liked playing soccer with his friends and building robots at school. His parents both worked, and provided him with a stable, loving home. Carlos was a healthy and thriving sixth grader. But when I met him, working as his pediatrician in the Intensive Care Unit, he was suffering from kidney failure secondary to complications of COVID-19. Why did this healthy child become so sick?
We discovered that Carlos had an undiagnosed kidney condition that had progressively worsened over the years. Why hadn’t this condition been picked up earlier by his pediatrician? Why was Carlos approaching kidney failure when there were readily available treatment options?
Unlike other kids his age, Carlos did not see a pediatrician for regular check-ups. Like other undocumented children in Connecticut, Carlos does not qualify for HUSKY (Health Care for Uninsured Kids and Youth), Connecticut’s state-funded health insurance program. For Carlos, and the other 13,000 undocumented children who live in Connecticut, access to affordable routine healthcare is nearly impossible.
With Senate Bill 956, Connecticut has the opportunity to make HUSKY accessible to these children, their parents, and thousands of other undocumented Connecticut residents. I believe that access to healthcare is a basic human right, and Connecticut must provide health insurance to our undocumented neighbors, family members, and friends.
As a pediatrician in New Haven, I worry about our 13,000 undocumented children. Carlos recovered from his acute illness but, unfortunately, now requires dialysis three times a week to live. If Carlos had had regular check-ups with a pediatrician, his kidney disease could have been discovered and treated earlier, and prevented a lengthy hospital admission and lifelong dialysis.
I worry about Carlos, and I also worry about the kids I don’t meet. Preventative medicine is at the heart of pediatrics, and kids without health insurance are at risk for worse health outcomes. I see children at regularly scheduled visits from birth through young adulthood. I provide vaccines, screen for developmental delays, manage medical problems, and counsel mental health concerns. Compared with their uninsured peers, insured children are more likely to succeed in school, avoid drug and alcohol use, have more successful careers, and lead healthier adult lives.
The proposed legislation –Senate Bill 956– would allow all income-eligible residents to enroll in HUSKY, regardless of citizenship status. To be sure, expanding state-funded health insurance is costly, at an estimated $195 million/year for Connecticut. However, this price tag would be mitigated by future savings on healthcare costs, like uncompensated care. For example, Carlos’s prolonged hospital stay alone cost just over $1 million. For uninsured patients, the hospital absorbs some cost, while local, state and federal funding sources cover another percentage. Since tax dollars are paying for this care anyway, why not pay for routine health visits upfront, and avoid expensive hospitalizations down the road?
Connecticut, despite a long history of state budget deficits, is now in good financial standing. A recent report projected an extra $925 million in revenues for the current fiscal year, which would wipe out the $640 million projected deficit. In addition, some of those revenues come directly from the taxes paid by the undocumented immigrant community, including Carlos’s parents. In 2018, undocumented immigrants in Connecticut contributed an estimated $197 million in state and local taxes. This would cover the estimated $195 million annual cost of expanding HUSKY.
My heart breaks for Carlos. His life is forever changed by a condition that could have been prevented by regular check-ups with a pediatrician. Let’s work together to bring SB 956 to a vote and pass this bill before the CT General Assembly adjourns on June 9.
What can you do to help? Please write to your state senator and your state representative today. Ask them to vote “yes”on SB 956. Every “Carlos” in Connecticut deserves a happy, healthy future.
Dr. Kristin Reese is a pediatrician in New Haven.