Many Connecticut legislators and advocates have come out to support the Biden administration’s recent move to expand Medicaid and Medicare coverage for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients (DACA).
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services proposed a rule to amend the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid’s definition of “lawful presence” to include DACA recipients, or “Dreamers” marking the first time they will have access to federally funded health insurance.
White House administrators said that if passed, DACA recipients can apply for coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace, with eligibility for financial assistance, and through their state Medicaid agency.
“For more than a decade, Dreamers in Connecticut and across the country have done everything we’ve asked of them. They’ve gone to school, gotten jobs, paid taxes, and contributed to their local communities in extraordinary ways,” said Sen. Chris Murphy shortly after the announcement. “I’m glad to see the Biden administration taking this step to finally get these kids access to quality, affordable health care and I’m going to keep fighting for their pathway to full citizenship.”
Established in 2012 under former President Barack Obama’s administration, DACA protects undocumented immigrants brought to the country as minors from deportation by allowing recipients to live and work legally for two years before needing renewal.
DACA has protected more than 850,000 immigrants since its founding, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigrant Services. There are almost 600,000 active DACA recipients as of June 2022.
However, since DACA doesn’t give recipients permanent legal status, many Dreamers can’t access federal benefits offered to U.S. citizens and legally present foreigners, such as Medicaid.
For example, the Center for American Progress found that more than three-quarters of DACA recipients work in essential jobs, with 13% in a healthcare-related profession. However, only 34% have health insurance coverage, the HHS reported.
Community Health Center’s Vice President of the Western Region, Amy Taylor, said that accessing medications, specialty care and hospital services is extremely difficult without insurance. She added that many DACA recipients are young adults who need access to preventative care and mental health services.
“Our bodies are incredibly dynamic living things that we need to take care of, maintain and protect and provide vaccinations to, and so on,” Taylor said. “If we neglect any period of our life in terms of taking care of ourselves, we put ourselves at risk for a whole range of health conditions.”
The federal expansion for DACA recipients matches a similar movement in the state to expand HUSKY coverage to all income-eligible residents under 18, regardless of immigration status.
The Connecticut General Assembly approved an expansion of HUSKY for children 12 and younger, regardless of immigration status, in 2022. State lawmakers also extended coverage to income-eligible birthing people.
A statement from Sen. Matt Lesser, D-Middletown, noted that the state Human Services Committee recently passed a proposal to expand HUSKY eligibility to anyone under 18 years of age called Senate Bill 6616. The bill was referred to the Appropriations Committee in March of 2023.
“This action from President Biden is welcome and will bolster hospitals and clinics in Connecticut,” Lesser said. “In addition to providing support and relief for lawfully present DACA recipients, this will provide additional momentum for our effort to expand HUSKY to cover individuals too young to be eligible for DACA. I’m grateful to President Biden for expanding on his work as Vice President to ensure security and mobility for all, regardless of immigration status.”
However, some advocates say that expanding healthcare coverage to DACA recipients is insufficient.
Connecticut Students for a Dream held a Student Day of Action rally last week at the state Capitol. High school students from across the state spoke in support of expanding HUSKY to all-income eligible residents under 26.
Although excited by the announcement, Camila Bortolleto, co-director of Connecticut Students for a Dream and DACA recipient, noted that Dreamers represent a small percentage of the undocumented community. She added that most DACA recipients can access healthcare coverage through their employers.
Bortolleto noted that many students who attended Thursday’s rally are not DACA eligible. Following an order issued by the Southern District of Texas federal district court in Oct. 2022, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services announced that they accept applications for new DACA recipients but will not approve them.
“This rule change by the Biden administration is a major victory for DACA recipients and their families and corrects an injustice from the Obama-era that denied access to health care through the ACA marketplace as well as Medicaid to thousands of DACA recipients in Connecticut,” Bortolleto said. “It is a step in the right direction and shows that expanding access to health care is the right thing to do. The Biden administration understands this and now our CT elected officials must finish the job.”
Click here for Record-Journal’s previous coverage on Connecticut’s efforts to expand HUSKY.
Health Equity reporter Cris Villalonga-Vivoni is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms. Support RFA reporters at the Record-Journal through a donation at https://bit.ly/3Pdb0re. To learn more about RFA, visit www.reportforamerica.org.