For Gabriela, the recent expansion of the state’s Medicaid program to children 12 and younger — regardless of their immigration status — means her 10-year-old son can now connect with a pediatrician, and she won’t have to worry as often about medical bills.

Gabriela, whose family moved to Hartford from Honduras, does not have permanent legal status, and three of her children are unable to access regular medical care because they are uninsured. With the expansion, her 10-year-old son is now eligible for coverage.

The CT Mirror is not identifying Gabriela because of a pending immigration case.

“We go to community clinics, but it really isn’t enough, because the worry is still there that, if my son has a temperature or discomfort of any kind — even though they give you a discounted rate — you still have to come with money,” she said. “And that’s not always possible.”

She stresses over medical bills from hospital visits and the lack of regular access to health care for her kids.

“We can’t just bring our children to the doctor when it’s necessary,” she said. “I have to figure it out. We make teas, we do home remedies, we use [over-the-counter] medicine to bring down temperatures. But I don’t feel confident like I would if I could just go to the doctor.”

Lawmakers in 2021 approved an expansion of Medicaid, known as HUSKY in Connecticut, to children 8 and younger regardless of immigration status. Last year, they broadened the eligibility to kids 12 and younger, so long as their families meet the qualifying income limits for Medicaid.

Children from households that earn up to 201% of the federal poverty level qualify (for a family of four, that’s $55,778). Kids from households earning between 201% and 325% of the federal poverty level also qualify but are subject to an asset test.

The expansion took effect Jan. 1. Children 12 and younger who enroll in the HUSKY program are allowed to keep the benefit through age 19. Children older than 12 without permanent legal status at the time of enrollment are not eligible.

The state is expecting about 5,500 residents to sign up for the expanded program during the first year.

“The fact that this was able to be included in the budget shows the power our community has,” Carolina Bortolleto, a volunteer with the HUSKY for Immigrants Coalition and a co-founder of Connecticut Students for a Dream, said in May when the expansion was approved. “And it shows that our legislators know this was the right thing to do.”

Residents are encouraged to call Access Health CT, the state’s insurance exchange, at 855-805-4325 to sign up. They can also request that a paper application be mailed to them. Access Health has bilingual staff available.

Residents can also visit any of the Department of Social Services’ offices and apply in person. A list of locations can be found here.

The state is in the process of upgrading its online application system and expects to have an online enrollment option in the future.

To sign up, the state asks for the child’s name, date of birth, address, and the family’s household income (as well as the frequency and source of income).

“We absolutely do not share any information ever with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services,” said Kristin Dowty, program administration manager with the state’s Department of Social Services.

In most cases, coverage begins the month that child is enrolled. So if a child signs up on Jan. 15, for example, the coverage would be retroactive from Jan. 1.

Coverage runs for a year, and families can reenroll at the end of that year.

In the coming weeks, the state will be advertising the HUSKY expansion on social media and working with immigrant advocacy groups and federally qualified health centers to get the word out, Dowty said.

State officials have also asked providers in the Medicaid network to share information about the program with patients.

“Our advocacy community is working really hard and closely with individuals trying to share that message,” Dowty said. “This is a program that’s available and created specifically for them to make sure barriers they’ve faced in the past can be eliminated. … We’re hopeful to see enrollment in the Husky program.”

As advocates look ahead to the legislative session that began last week and runs through June, they are calling for another HUSKY expansion that would include all residents, regardless of age and immigration status.

Legislators have signaled they are open to debating the idea.

“Everyone needs health care,” Bortolleto said. “We’ll be fighting for health care for everyone.”

The family had a box full of over-the-counter medications. Not being able to visit doctors for prescriptions, the family often relies on the medications that they are familiar with, Gabriela said.

Gabriela has two older children, ages 15 and 16, who still need health coverage. Her 15-year-old son survived a stroke but required emergency care and surgeries, which left the family with thousands in medical bills, even with financial assistance from the hospitals.

“We’re worried about our loved ones being sick or having to receive care,” she said. “But because we’re immigrants and we’re poor, we’re also worried about how much this is all going to cost and how it is going to work.”

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Jenna CarlessoHealth Reporter

Jenna is CT Mirror’s Health Reporter, focusing on health access, affordability, quality, equity and disparities, social determinants of health, health system planning, infrastructure, processes, information systems, and other health policy. Before joining CT Mirror Jenna was a reporter at The Hartford Courant for 10 years, where she consistently won statewide and regional awards. Jenna has a Master of Science degree in Interactive Media from Quinnipiac University and a Bachelor or Arts degree in Journalism from Grand Valley State University.