For Immediate Release:
Tuesday, July 20, 2021
Media Contact:
Karissa Hand
Cell: 508-406-8186
Bills would expand MassHealth coverage to 30,000 immigrant children, including 1,650 with disabilities
BOSTON – On Tuesday, the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing heard testimony from consumers, health care providers, health care and immigration advocates, and legislators in support of the “Cover All Kids” bills, which would expand MassHealth coverage to immigrant children. Currently, more than 30,000 children and young adults in Massachusetts, including approximately 1,650 who have disabilities, are ineligible for comprehensive MassHealth coverage simply due to immigration status.
An Act to ensure equitable health coverage for children (HB 1309/SB 762) would expand comprehensive MassHealth coverage to all young people under age 21 whose only barrier to eligibility is immigration status. An Act to ensure equitable access to health coverage for children with disabilities (HB 1310/SB 763) would expand MassHealth CommonHealth to undocumented children (through age 18) and low-income young adults (ages 19-20) with disabilities. Both bills are sponsored by Senator Sal DiDomenico and Representative Dave Rogers.
“Every child deserves access to comprehensive health coverage, and these bills will reduce barriers to care for thousands of immigrant children in Massachusetts,” said Senator Sal DiDomenico. “Especially as immigrant communities have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, we cannot allow immigration status to disqualify otherwise-eligible children and young adults from MassHealth. The consequences of denying them healthcare are long-lasting and far-reaching. Children with inadequate healthcare are more likely to suffer from chronic illnesses, as well as physical or developmental disabilities, into their adult lives. We must cover all kids.”
“These two pieces of legislation are sensible, inclusive, and have been effective in other states where they have been enacted, such as California, Washington, Oregon, Illinois, and New York,” said Representative Dave Rogers. “Immigrant families deserve to experience the same quality of life as any other person living in Massachusetts. When it comes to access to health care services, we need to do much more to protect them. Immigrants have become increasingly wary of seeking medical treatment and emergency services for fear of deportation. Every child in the Commonwealth, regardless of their immigration status, deserves access to good health care!”
MassHealth covers the state’s most vulnerable young people, but leaves out children and young adults who are undocumented or have certain other immigration statuses. California, Washington, Oregon, Illinois, New York and Washington D.C. have all expanded their Medicaid programs to cover all otherwise eligible children regardless of immigration status. The Connecticut legislature recently passed a similar measure.
“Massachusetts prides itself on being a national leader in health care access for children, but we are failing thousands of children in the Commonwealth by excluding them from the MassHealth program simply due to their immigration status,” said Suzanne Curry, Behavioral Health Policy Director for Health Care for All. “This is a health equity issue – immigrants face disproportionate barriers to care, and a lack of access to quality health care has been proven to have long-term negative impacts on children’s overall physical, cognitive and behavioral wellbeing. Especially in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Massachusetts legislature must pass the Cover All Kids bills this session.”
These bills have taken on a heightened importance due to the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on immigrants. Even before the pandemic, immigrant families already experienced discrimination and barriers to accessing linguistically and culturally appropriate care.
“Our Commonwealth is within striking distance of realizing its longstanding commitment to attaining universal coverage for children,” said Amy Grunder, Director of State Policy & Legislative Affairs of the MIRA Coalition. “No one should lack access to care in our state, least of all children whose families have borne the brunt of the pandemic.”
The negative impacts of a lack of access to comprehensive health care coverage for children are widespread – both on the cognitive, behavioral, and physical health of the child, as well as on school performance, lifelong health, and future earning potential. Access to comprehensive health coverage for children and young adults reduces barriers to care, improves educational and health outcomes, and reduces the use of more costly and acute medical or behavioral health interventions.
“Children cannot thrive and reach their full potential without access to healthcare, especially ​children with disabilities. As a pediatrician and emergency room doctor, I have unfortunately cared for numerous children who were denied necessary medical care because of their immigration status,” said Amanda Stewart MD, MPH, Attending Physician in the Division of Emergency Medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital. “One such child, a teenager with a heart condition whose medications were denied, ended up having their medical condition worsen to the point of needing open heart surgery. This was avoidable and would not have happened if this child had access to MassHealth CommonHealth. Every day children are being denied medications, such as insulin and asthma inhalers, that increase their chances of ending up in my emergency room. They are denied access to much needed specialist care that can improve and prolong their lives. This is unacceptable. All children living in the Commonwealth deserve access to healthcare so they can be healthy, happy, and thrive.”