Rosario Tepoz arrived in Connecticut from Mexico 10 years ago with a 2-year-old son. Six years later, Tepoz had a daughter, born in Connecticut and, as a result, born into citizenship in the United States.
Today, her children face completely different realities when it comes to accessing medical care.
“I have two children. One has health insurance, and one does not have health insurance, and this hurts me in my soul. They themselves have lived and understand what this means,” testified Tepoz in a public hearing on Thursday.
A bill currently under review by the Human Services committee seeks to assist children like Tepoz’s son by expanding medical insurance coverage to all children under the age of 19, regardless of immigration status.
Tepoz’s son, who is 12 years old and attends the Montessori Magnet School in Hartford, does not qualify for health insurance because he was not born in the U.S. For his entire life, his medical care has consisted of infrequent visits to pediatricians and dentists. Any time he gets sick, Tepoz takes him straight to the emergency room, resulting in more hospital bills for the family.
On the other hand, Tepoz is able to take her 4-year-old daughter to all routine medical and dental appointments without worrying about the financial burden.
“It hurts him to see the difference between the services he receives compared to his younger sister. This hurts him, and it hurts me as his mother even more,” said Tepoz.
In June 2021, the legislature passed a bill qualifying children 8 and under for the state’s Medicaid program, known as HUSKY, regardless of immigration status.
The bill passed last year covers children living in families with incomes below 323% of the federal poverty level. It also extended prenatal care, regardless of immigration status, to women whose household income is between 196% and 318% of the federal poverty level and postpartum care to those whose household income is at or below 263% of the federal poverty level.
At the time, the measure directed the Department of Social Services to study the feasibility of extending HUSKY coverage to all children, which frustrated activists who were hoping the bill would accomplish that.
Coverage for eligible groups goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2023. If the expansion to include children between the ages of 9 and 18 passes, that too would go into effect on the first of the year.
Department of Social Services Commissioner Deidre Gifford testified that the department does not support the bill because it would result in additional annual costs of at least $10.2 million annually, borne entirely by the state.
Sen. Derek Slap, D-West Hartford, also testified to the financial upside of the bill for the state, reporting that uncompensated care cost hospitals $774 million in 2020, up from $233 million in 2012.
“That puts a lot of strain on our hospitals, in terms of employment and the services they can provide, so we all suffer because of that, and of course, pay for it in our taxes and our premiums,” he said.
Advocates for immigrants’ rights also have their sights set on eventually expanding coverage beyond children to all residents regardless of immigration status.
“In order to ensure healthy children, their parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents need to be healthy, as well,” said Tepoz.