Advocates push to provide health insurance for all RI children, regardless of immigration status

By Steve Ahlquist

Representative David Morales and Senator Sandra Cano called for passage of their legislation (H5714 / S0576) at a State house press conference on Thursday to ensure that all low-income children, regardless of immigration status, qualify for health insurance under the state’s RIte Care program. The legislation “would establish Rhode Island’s commitment to provide health insurance to all children who are residents of the state, regardless of immigration status. It would provide for the appropriation of state-only funds to pay for coverage if federal funds are not available.”

“As we work to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, we can’t afford to leave any children without health care,” said Representative Morales (Democrat, District 7, Providence). “All public health is at risk when there are some people who can’t seek health care when they need it. But above all, health care is a human right, and all children deserve safety. Healthy kids should be a high priority of Rhode Island.”

RIte Care is the state’s Medicaid program for children, providing health care coverage for those under age 19 whose family income does not exceed 250 percent of the federal poverty level. Rhode Island covered all children regardless of status for almost 10 years in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and it is time to restore this commitment to all children, said Representative Morales, Senator Cano and a host of children’s advocates.

Currently, there are about 3000 uninsured children in our state who are not enrolled in RIte Care and are not able to access the health care services they need. Expanding coverage would allow parents to take their children to the doctor for preventive care, see specialists as necessary and buy critical medications that can help reduce higher health care costs for the state because if children are hospitalized, the hospital bills are covered by Medicaid, with the state paying its required share.

But more importantly, said Senator Cano (Democrat, District 8, Pawtucket), children should not suffer because of their legal status or socioeconomic background. In addition to lacking the health care that children need as they are growing up, children without health insurance may not receive emergency care as their families may fear that their status will be discovered. Having coverage for the children without regard to their immigration status would help alleviate some of those fears, keep kids healthier, and avoid preventable illnesses.

“Every child needs regular health care,” said Senator Cano. “Of course they should have immunizations, attention to their development and medical treatment when they are sick. We are stronger and safer when everyone in Rhode Island has the health care they need.”

The bill has strong support from over 20 organizations including Rhode Island KIDS COUNT, Economic Progress Institute, and The Latino Policy Institute.

“In 2019, 98.1% of Rhode Island children had health insurance coverage and Rhode Island ranked second for children’s health insurance coverage,” said Elizabeth Burke Bryant, Executive Director of Rhode Island KIDS COUNT. “To achieve our goal of covering all kids, we must restore access to RIte Care health insurance for income-eligible children who are undocumented immigrants. All children need access to health care that supports their healthy growth and development and promotes school success.”

Linda Katz, policy director of Economic Progress Institute (EPI) said, “COVID-19 has reinforced how interconnected and interdependent we are. Ensuring that all of Rhode Island’s children have access to comprehensive health care through RIte Care enrollment not only helps those youngsters but protects all of us. EPI looks forward to working with Representative Morales and Senator Cano to enact this legislation.”

“During the last year, we have experienced firsthand the impacts of health disparities on the educational and economic outcomes of our most vulnerable Black and Latino communities,” said Marcela Betancur, Director of The Latino Policy Institute. “Ensuring that our youngest Rhode Islanders have access to health coverage is a public health issue we cannot continue to ignore.”

The House bill was introduced February 24 with over 20 cosponsors and has been assigned to the House Finance Committee. The Senate bill was introduced on March 11 and has been assigned to the Senate Finance Committee.

Other speakers at the State House Rally included...