Jan 4, 2024 - News

Undocumented children in Utah now qualify for state-funded medical benefits

Illustration of some crayons next to a children's coloring book featuring a partially colored ambulance on one page and a colored medical bag on the opposite page.

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Undocumented children in Utah now qualify for medical benefits under a new, state-funded health insurance plan.

Details: The 2023 law that established State CHIP is designed to provide health and dental coverage for eligible children and teens under age 19 who are in low-income, working households and don't qualify for other health insurance or Medicaid due to their citizenship status.

  • Enrollment opened on Jan. 1, and the state Department of Workforce Services will handle applications.

The big picture: Utah's move to offer medical benefits to undocumented children comes as California became the first state in the nation to expand coverage to undocumented immigrants of all age groups.

  • Immigration advocates say the COVID-19 pandemic shed light on the importance of preventative health care for undocumented immigrants, who were disproportionately impacted by the disease's health tolls.
  • The bill's sponsor state Sen. Luz Escamilla, a Salt Lake City Democrat, previously said funding the program would be more cost-effective than the state covering emergency hospital visits.

What they're saying: "Access to care or coverage should not be determined by where a child is born," Thaiss Del Rio, a health policy analyst at Voices for Utah Children, told Axios.

  • "We are just really excited to know that more children in our state will have access … for the very first time so that they can stay healthy, they can go to the doctor's [office], get their vaccines and be able to perform better in school."

The intrigue: The bill to fund insurance coverage for undocumented minors garnered considerable support last year from the Republican-controlled state Legislature.

By the numbers: The program, which costs $4.5 million per year, is expected to help up to 2,000 children.

  • The program has a sunset date of July 2028.

In 2021, undocumented immigrants in Utah accounted for less than 3% of the state population, according to the Pew Research Center.

  • Currently, about 6,500 undocumented children living in Utah would qualify for the program, according to Del Rio.
  • A family of four making a maximum of $60,000 per year would meet the income restrictions to be eligible.

What we're watching: Del Rio said there's some "potential" that the state Legislature could expand health care coverage to immigrants in other age groups in the future.

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