A bill that would extend Medicaid to a wider group of children and teens without permanent legal status in Connecticut has cleared a key hurdle, though the measure won’t cover as many people as proponents originally had hoped.
The Human Services Committee voted 14 to 8 to advance the proposal, which would expand Medicaid, known as HUSKY in Connecticut, to people 18 and younger regardless of their immigration status beginning Jan. 1, 2024. An earlier version of the bill would have extended the program to residents 20 and younger starting in January 2024, and then to those 25 and younger in June of that year.
“First and foremost, I do see this as a human rights issue,” said Rep. Jillian Gilchrest, a West Hartford Democrat who is co-chair of the committee. “These are residents of our state. They work and live here. They go to school with our children. And I think we should be doing everything possible to expand access to health care.
“Additionally, it makes good fiscal sense. We have medical debt in this state. We have heard from many a provider, the Connecticut Hospital Association [and Federally Qualified Health Centers] that this policy would help them financially, as they are already taking care of this population. We also know that many individuals who don’t have access to health insurance still end up in our emergency rooms.”
Sen. Matthew Lesser, the committee co-chair, said changing the bill to include those 18 and younger — instead of 25 and younger — garnered more support among legislators. The latest version directs the state’s social services department to study the possibility of further expanding Medicaid to age 26.
“We started out with an ambitious ask of trying to cover young people up to age 26. The idea was to tie it to the Affordable Care Act,” said Lesser, D-Middletown. “We wound up compromising and found the most support in the committee for” the current version.
This is the third year in a row that lawmakers are pressing to broaden the Medicaid program.
The General Assembly in 2021 approved an expansion to children 8 and younger without permanent legal status. Last year, they widened the eligibility to kids 12 and younger, so long as their families meet the qualifying income limits for Medicaid. The program launched in January.
Children 12 and younger who enroll in HUSKY 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.
Kids from households that earn up to 201% of the federal poverty level qualify (for a family of four, that’s $55,778). Children from households earning between 201% and 323% of the federal poverty level (for a family of four, that’s $89,633) also qualify but are subject to small co-pays and, in some cases, modest premiums.
More than 200 people signed up to speak at a public hearing on the bill earlier this month. Hundreds more submitted written testimony.
“I don’t think there’s anybody who witnessed the public hearing and the testimony that can deny the human cost and the financial cost … of excluding people from getting basic care in one of the wealthiest states,” said Rep. Anne Hughes, D-Easton, who voted in favor of advancing the measure. “We represent all residents of Connecticut, especially the children, and I am not willing to be complicit in the policy of excluding anybody from care.”
Some committee members took issue with the bill.
“My concern is we have heard from many people — and I also have … people in my own district — who aren’t eligible to get insurance, even though they are eligible to get insurance,” said Rep. Jay Case, R-Winsted. “Either they can’t afford it, they don’t have a job. … We need to work to get people insurance that are here.”
“I am not exactly sure how we can contemplate this, given the fact that there are many people living in our communities who are citizens and are not eligible for insurance,” added Sen. Lisa Seminara, R-Avon. “I will be a ‘no’ this session.”
Supporters praised the committee for passing the measure but said legislators can’t forget about immigrants over age 18.
“This vote shows that our legislators are listening to overwhelming support behind this issue,” said Luis Luna, manager of the HUSKY for Immigrants Coalition. “But the fact is health care needs don’t end after age 18. The bill’s passage out of the Human Services committee is another important step in our march towards health equity in our state.”
“We’re really pleased that we’re still moving forward, progressively,” said Jay Sicklick, deputy director of the Center for Children’s Advocacy. “We had certainly hoped that the bill as written would have been voted out of committee. But we understand it’s an incremental process.”
The proposal now heads to the Appropriations Committee for review.