A Utah lawmaker has proposed a bill that would restrict legal immigrant children from accessing health care through Medicaid and CHIP.
Republican state Sen. Allen Christensen introduced the bill. It focuses on reinstating a five-year waiting period for legal immigrant children before they can get health coverage under the Children’s Health Insurance Program or Medicaid.
"Giving immediate Medicaid and or CHIP benefits is not in my mind a fiscally responsible thing to do," Christensen says.
The senator claims reinstating the waiting period will free up money for the state. But according to Tom Hudachko, a spokesman for the Utah Department of Health, all of the CHIP and Medicaid funding for the approximately 475 children who would be affected comes from the federal government. That means Utah wouldn’t have more money to work with.
Lincoln Nehring is the CEO of Voices for Utah Children, an advocacy group that opposes the bill.
"To kick these kids off, it would not free up additional dollars to cover some other population or to do something else with. Utah would just lose those federal dollars and we would have more children who are uninsured," Nehring says.
This waiting period isn’t new. It was in place in the past but in 2016 members of Utah’s legislature eliminated the rule, as have nearly three dozen other states.
Sen. Christensen says for him there’s a bigger issue involved.
"The philosophical idea of emigrating to the United States and immediately going on government support is contrary to how I believe," Christensen says.
But Nehring disagrees.
"He can have that philosophical debate if he wants, but real kids are gonna get hurt if this bill passes," Nehring says.
Christensen says this initial proposal is an attempt to gauge public reaction. From there he’ll determine whether to pursue it in the 2018 legislative session.