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Bill advances to expand CT's Medicaid for undocumented residents who are 18 and younger

Mark Mirko
Connecticut Public
Jillian Gilchrest, House chair of the General Assembly's Human Services Committee, meets with reporters Feb. 14, 2023, and voices her support of legislation to provide HUSKY health care to undocumented immigrants. On Thursday, March 2, the Human Services Committee voted to pass House Bill 6616 to expand HUSKY to those otherwise eligible, regardless of immigration status, to people who are 18 and younger.

Connecticut immigrant advocates are encouraged that a bill they've championed has taken a step forward in the state legislature.

The proposal would expand Medicaid eligibility to undocumented immigrants to those who are 18 and younger.

When the bill was originally drafted, it would have provided access to HUSKY health care to income-eligible recipients as old as 26 years old, regardless of their immigration status. The most recent draft of the bill, which has advanced to the appropriations committee, dropped the eligibility to 18.

The proposal has attracted a lot of public discussion. A hearing on the proposal last month lasted about 12 hours, with over 200 people filing testimonies.

Advocates had claimed that expanding HUSKY Medicaid to undocumented people up to age 26 would cost about $50 million in state funds.

Carolina Bortolleto, an advocate for Husky for Immigrants, said it's time to eliminate the stereotypes around the immigrant community and focus on the state's future.

“I hope we can overcome the anti-immigrant sentiment among some legislators by focusing on the fact that we’re all Connecticut residents, and a healthier state will benefit all of us,” Bortolleto said.

Stephanie Melgar, an immigrant from South America, says she is happy that Connecticut is helping undocumented people, but there’s more need.

“I’m glad the bill moved up,” Melgar said. “But not only 18-year-olds get sick. I’m 22, and I have many health problems. And it makes me sad that it’s not expanding until 26.”

Rep. Jay Case (R-Winsted) noted during the public hearing that the bill in 2022 had failed in a committee . He added that legislators could be using the time to discuss topics that help others, such as older adults, unemployed people and those experiencing homelessness.

Starting in 2023, HUSKY Medicaid expanded coverage for children ages up to 12 years old, regardless of their immigration status, as long as their family met the qualifying income requirements.

In a statement to Connecticut Public, state Sen. Rob Sampson (R-Wolcott) described the effort to extend benefits to more undocumented people as "purely political.”

“I am sympathetic to anyone who wants to come to this great country," he said. "There are two issues here — immigration and the march toward socialism. Participation in America and what it offers must be pursued lawfully.”

The bill was introduced to the Human Services Committee by state Sen. Matt Lesser (D-Middletown) and state Rep. Jillian Gilchrest (D-West Hartford). Since then, it has received the support of 12 co-sponsors, including some members of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus.