Del. lawmakers tackling equal health opportunities for low-income, undocumented children

DELAWARE – First State lawmakers are looking to expand health care coverage.

Medical Coverage for the Marginalized

Many of Delaware’s children cannot get the health care they need because they are undocumented, or their parents simply can’t afford it. “Vulnerable children across our state need our help to get the kind of basic coverage that can prevent them from experiencing a health care crisis, from which they or their families may never recover,” said State Senator Sarah McBride.

House Bill 317, also known as the Cover All Delaware Children Act, would set up a framework to ensure those children aren’t left behind. “A child resident of Delaware, whose family income is low enough that they would qualify on that basis for Medicaid or [Children’s Health Insurance Program], but who otherwise would not be eligible for the federal programs, due to immigration status, will become eligible for coverage under the state-run program,” said bill sponsor Representative Krista Griffith.

“Heart Breaking Situations”

Rep. Griffith says for her, this bill is personal. Her son was diagnosed with leukemia, and is now cancer-free six years later. “I’ve been in the position where my child faced a life threatening illness. I know that without access to preventative care and treatment, he would have died,” said Rep. Griffith.

Doctors at La Red Medical Center in Georgetown say, this is also major issue within the local community. Dr. Marisel Santiago says financial and legal barriers can hold children back from getting life-changing medical care.

“We have, at La Red, many, many children that do not qualify for medical insurance because they are undocumented. As a result, we as providers see heart breaking situations,” she said. “We have children with parents that cannot afford the dentist. They go through life suffering with pain. We have parents that can’t afford something as simple as glasses for their children. Parents struggle to buy, sometimes, medication because they can’t afford it. They can’t afford tests and lab work.”

During a Tuesday press conference, Dr. Santiago recounted the story of 8-year-old “Carlitos”, whose real name has been withheld to protect his privacy. Dr. Santiago says when Carlitos first arrived at La Red Medical Center, he was dangerously obese. Doctors ordered labs and referrals for him, but his parents declined because they could not afford them.

Dr. Santiago says Carlitos and his family came back some time later. Carlitos had lost weight, and doctors wanted to pinpoint his progress through more labs and referrals. But, again, his parents couldn’t provide the money. Dr. Santiago says Carlitos went into Diabetic Ketoacidosis, and is now a type one diabetic. Because of that, Carlitos will be dealing with health issues for the rest of his life.

“The same way that we can provide school and education to every kid, no matter where they come from, we should be able to provide access to medical coverage,” said Dr. Santiago. “Every child deserves the opportunity, and has the right to grow up to be a healthy and productive member of our family.”

Reaching Out, Inviting In

Early predictions from the Department of Health and Social Services indicate that as many as 5,000 children could be eligible. “None of these children chose their circumstance. None of them chose the broken immigration system that prevents them from seeing a pediatrician. And, none of them chose to endure the kind of basic health concerns that afflict so many young people,” said Sen. McBride.

Lawmakers say that researchers are predicting about 1,000 children could to take part in the program in its first year, if passed. But, they add that many undocumented people won’t or feel they can’t step forward for help out of fear of deportation. So, there will need to be a significant amount of community outreach to assist as many families as possible. The Delaware State Education Association (DSEA) tells 47ABC they are open to conducting that outreach within schools.

Paying for the Program

Until then, DSEA President Stephanie Ingram says they “whole heartedly” stand behind the legislation. She predicts that the program could increase college enrollment numbers, and high school and college graduation rates. Ingram says that will help improve overall earnings in Delaware, and increase intergenerational mobility. “Educators don’t just mold minds. They care for the whole child. This legislation is an extension of that extra care that is needed to ensure our children are safe, healthy, and successful,” said Ingram.

If passed, the program is expected to cost between $3 million and $5 million dollars every year. Funding for the program would come from the state. However, that money wasn’t included in Governors John Carney’s budget. Rep. Griffith says the money will have to be allocated for through state resources.

But legislators predict that ultimately, the program will pay for itself. “In the long run, by expanding coverage to ensure that these young people are able to get the full range of health care needs, including preventative care, that’s not only going to improve health outcomes for these children, but help to lower costs in treating them, and health care costs overall,” said Sen. McBride.

Categories: Delaware, Health, Local News, Local Politics