CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — Thousands of immigrant children with residency paperwork in Nevada could access government-subsidized health care without delay under a proposal lawmakers heard Monday.
The bill aims to abolish a five-year wait period for refugee youth, minors with green cards and certain other young immigrants to get insurance coverage tailored to low-income families. Thirty-one states have made that change.
For Alejandra Hernandez Chavez’s family, going back to Mexico for basic medical services was less expensive than seeing American doctors without insurance in the years after she received her documentation of legal residency.
“I would miss a week of school because we would have to spend so much time in Mexico where we could actually afford dental work and seeing a doctor,” Hernandez Chavez said at a legislative hearing.
Being able to access Medicaid and Nevada Check Up, insurance programs backed by state and federal funding, as soon as children have documentation would make a world of difference, the 23-year-old University of Nevada, Reno student and other supporters said.
The policy shift could expand insurance coverage over the next year to as many as 7,500 impoverished immigrants living in the country legally who are under age 19, by the state’s initial estimate. Others put the figure between 4,800 and more than 8,000 children who would benefit within one year.
Former President Barack Obama first introduced the policy option in 2009.
It’s geared toward children and pregnant women new to the country with little means, although Senate Bill 325 would expand the programs only to children.
“With kids — you make no conscious choice to leave your country,” Hernandez Chavez said.
The last states to opt in, Utah and Florida, approved the change in 2016.
If passed, Nevada would likely be the first state to ask President Donald Trump’s administration for a waiver to cover immigrant children sooner.
With 7,500 additional children enrolled, the expanded coverage would cost the state nearly $5.3 million annually beginning in 2018, according to a Health and Human Services report. The federal government would kick in roughly $14 million in that scenario.
Opponents argued that that’s too expensive, especially considering Nevada is among the 31 states that increased Medicaid eligibility under Obama’s health law.
“I don’t want to expand the programs when it’s already costing taxpayers so much,” conservative political activist Janine Hansen said.
Hansen also claimed — falsely according to a state program administrator — that family members living in the country illegally could benefit from their kids’ insurance.
“It is an individual eligibility determination, it does not confer to other members of the family,” said Naomi Lewis, deputy administrator for the state Division of Welfare and Supportive Services.