Department of Social Services / State of Connecticut

Connecticut lawmakers are discussing extending health coverage to more people in the state. Specifically, they are debating a proposal to expand the HUSKY health benefits program to include undocumented immigrant youth who are 18 years old or younger.

The current proposal would leave out undocumented adults. Yet, research tells us that in order to promote the well-being of immigrant children and youth, we must also ensure the well-being of their adult parents.

Andrea Negrete

Extending healthcare coverage programs solely to children, without extending coverage to their parents, has been shown to be insufficient, according to research. In a study that examined data from the nationally representative Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, researchers found that children were more likely to have continuous healthcare coverage through public programs such as Medicaid if their parents also had continuous coverage.

Additionally, children eligible for health insurance through public programs were more likely to experience gaps in coverage if their parents lacked insurance. Other research has noted that children’s gap in healthcare coverage is related to increases in children’s unmet healthcare needs.

When parents are provided access to health insurance, this increases the chances that their children’s healthcare needs are met. This is partially why the 2023 legislative proposal to expand HUSKY to immigrants was originally meant to include undocumented immigrants up to age 26, as this is the time when many young adults are starting families.

Empirical studies provide support for the importance of expanding coverage to parents. For instance, one study found that parent enrollment in Medicaid increased their children’s likelihood of attending annual well-child visits. Furthermore, adults who have access to healthcare are more able to have their health needs met and are less likely to experience stress from medical expenses. This is important because parental stress can impact their child’s mental health through increases in family conflict. As a result, policies that contribute to reductions in parental stress may help parents show up in more healthy and positive ways for their own children.

For immigrant families, legal status plays a significant role in access to healthcare across the United States. Immigrants who are non-citizens are less likely than naturalized citizens and non-immigrants to lack health care coverage. One contributing factor is that undocumented immigrants in our communities are not eligible to apply for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act marketplace and are excluded from Medicaid, Medicare, and the Child Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Moreover, restrictive policies, like prohibiting undocumented adults from accessing health insurance, contribute to health disparities.

For instance, due to lack of health coverage, undocumented immigrants are more likely to forgo prevention care that could detect and prevent serious illness and thus prolong their life. Furthermore, restrictive immigration policies create fear and mistrust, leading immigrant parents to avoid seeking care for themselves or their children. State-level policies signal to immigrants whether they are welcome or not. Hostile and restrictive state policies are likely to increase perceptions of exclusion which has been linked to poor mental health among immigrants.

Policymakers in Connecticut have an opportunity to pass legislation that can reduce inequalities in healthcare access and promote the well-being of all members of our state. For that goal to be realized, policies must recognize the interconnectedness of our communities. It is time to expand HUSKY to include all immigrants who meet the income requirements, regardless of their immigration status.

Andrea Negrete is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Wesleyan University.