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July 26, 2023

Proposal would give immigrants greater access to MassHealth

A look at the Massachusetts State House on a sunny day, it's golden dome gleaming in the sunlight. Courtesy | Flickr/Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism The Massachusetts State House

More than 30,000 children and young adults in Massachusetts are ineligible for comprehensive MassHealth coverage because of their immigration status, according to an advocacy group that backs legislation that would extend coverage to that population.

Health Care for All and the attorney general's office are supporting a re-filed bill (H 1237 / S 740) that would expand comprehensive MassHealth coverage to all people under 21 whose only eligibility barrier is their immigration status.

Ruth Gomez, who lives in Chelsea with her two children, testified in favor of the bill at a Joint Committee on Health Care Financing hearing Tuesday. She said that before her immigration status recently changed, she had trouble getting the medical care she needed for her son who was born without eyes, is mostly deaf, and has severe developmental disabilities.

"At eight years old, he could not speak, walk, eat, bathe or dress without assistance. Doctors have struggled to understand his condition, making it a challenge to get Dylan the care that he needs," a translator said on Ruth's behalf. "The more limited insurance Dylan did have didn't cover walking aids or hearing aids that would allow him to be more independent."

She added, "Earlier this year our family received a new immigration status and Dylan became eligible for MassHealth in terms of his access to services and medical attention. He finally has a walker, and access to specialists, therapists and tests for his hearing... I've already noticed a huge improvement with Dylan in just the five months being on MassHealth. Before he was so unresponsive, and now he's like a whole new kid."

Estimates of the cost to extend the state-funded health care to undocumented immigrant children range from about $112 million (with about 31,000 children enrolled) to $166 million (with about 48,000 children), according to Health Care for All Director of Policy and Government Relations Suzanne Curry.

At the midpoint of the estimates, it would be about $3,400 per year for each child, Curry said, "the same as the average cost of one day of an inpatient hospital stay in Massachusetts."

"These numbers show that we are falling short of providing the care that tens of thousands of children in the state need, impacting the health and wellbeing of the whole family," Curry said. "The costs also show up elsewhere in the system through emergency department and hospital use for services that could have been provided in a more cost-effective setting. Comprehensive coverage in childhood can also increase health and avert disability in adulthood and has also been shown to increase educational outcomes and even future earning potential."

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