More than 700 people submitted testimony to the state legislature Tuesday for a bill that would provide health insurance to undocumented teenagers and young adults through age 26 – a program that the Connecticut Department of Social Services warned would cost the state $15 million a year.
Immigrants from a variety of different groups, including Make the Road CT, Hartford Deportation Defense, Nosotras, Manos Unidas and others, as well as teachers and healthcare professionals, spoke about their own and others’ experiences with the healthcare system at a public hearing in Hartford on Tuesday.
They talked about having to spend large amounts of their own money on medications, having to wait hours at healthcare facilities while people with insurance were given priority and being afraid that, if they fell ill, there would be no one to care for their children.
Resident Luis Alfonso Santiago said he ended up in the Emergency Room after a serious case of poison ivy resulting from his work as a gardener. He said that he refused medical attention after hearing it would cost $3,000. He was unable to work for two weeks, during which time he worried about not being able to pay the rent or the electricity.
Elizabeth Gonzalez, who immigrated from Mexico 20 years ago and works as a nanny and housekeeper, said she was pre-diabetic, obese and had fatty liver.
“I need access to a nutritionist and to proper care. Sometimes I have to choose between attending a medical appointment, paying a bill, or feeding my children. They have health insurance, but I live in fear that I will not be here for them when they need me,” she said.
Rose Murphy, a teacher in New Haven, said that one of her 17-year-old students, whom she called Sophia, grew up without health insurance.
“She said that one of her earliest memories was of her mother telling her not to get sick,” said Murphy.
Murphy said that Sophia’s mother was still paying back a medical bill from 8 years ago, when Sophia’s brother had to go to the Emergency Room after an accident. She said that the last time Sophia had been to a dentist was six years ago, and that last fall, when Sophia got a rash, she tried to hide it from her mother because she knew they couldn’t afford treatment. When the rash spread and her mother found out, Sophia was taken to the emergency room and the family was charged $3,000.
Luiz Luna, the organizer of the HUSKY for Immigrants campaign, said that his estimates showed it would cost the state about $18.4 million to expand HUSKY to undocumented immigrants through age 26, and $83 million to make HUSKY available to all undocumented Connecticut residents.
Luna told the committee that expanding health insurance to young adults was important because they were the least likely group of adults to have health insurance through their employers, and that health problems at that age could have negative consequences over the course of their lives.
According to the Department of Social Services, upward of 2,000 people have enrolled in the program since it opened on January 1.
Funding for the expansion was not included in the governor’s proposed budget last week.
Last year, a bill expanding HUSKY coverage through the age of 18 failed to pass out of committee on a tie vote. Funding for the expansion through age 12 was subsequently added into the state’s budget through the state appropriations committee.
In 2021, the state voted to provide HUSKY health insurance to children between the ages of 0 and 8 years old and pregnant women beginning January 1 of this year. Last spring, the legislature voted to expand coverage to children through age 12 while phasing in coverage to teenagers up to age 18 over the next six years.
This year’s bill would expand HUSKY health insurance to all undocumented children and young adults ages 0 to 20 beginning in 2024, and to undocumented young adults under the age of 26 beginning in 2025.
State Sen. Matt Lesser, D-Middletown, told CT Examiner that the choice to provide state health insurance to people under the age of 26 was in alignment with the federal Affordable Care Act, which requires health plans to allow young people up to age 26 to receive health insurance coverage on their parent or guardian’s plan.
Lesser said that if the bill passed out of committee to be heard by the full legislature, they would “have a conversation” about how to appropriate the funds.
But the Department of Social Services said in their testimony that they felt the state should not expand health insurance any further until they had a chance to evaluate how the 0-12 Medicaid expansion is working, and what its actual cost would be.
“The Department believes any further expansion of the program is premature until there has been an opportunity to take stock of the program in its current form,” the department’s testimony read.