House and Senate Democrats are backing new legislation to provide medical coverage to thousands of undocumented children illegally residing in the state.
Under House Bill 317
, sponsored by Rep. Krista Griffith and Sen. Sarah McBride, the Cover All Delaware Children Act would direct the Department of Health and Social Services to develop and operate a program to provide medical coverage to juveniles who are not otherwise covered, including undocumented children.
According to a news release announcing the initiative this week: “There are approximately 5,000 children who are undocumented in Delaware. Many undocumented children have parents who earn low wages and do not benefit from employer-based health insurance. Additionally, children who are undocumented immigrants are barred from enrolling in federally funded health coverage programs Medicaid and CHIP, and they can’t purchase health coverage through the state exchanges provided by the Affordable Care Act.”
Only eight states reportedly provide health coverage to undocumented children: California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington.
State House Republican Leader Danny Short reacted to the proposal with the following statement:
“This proposal is at once well-intended and entirely misguided. The supporters of this bill want to provide medical and dental care to an estimated 5,000 children who are in Delaware illegally – a program that will be wholly paid for by state taxpayers. Offering these benefits will predictably make our state a favored destination for illegal immigration, further burdening our schools, which are required to educate undocumented children, but receive no federal assistance for complying with this mandate.
“As someone who has been involved in the health insurance industry for more than 30 years, I estimate the initial annual cost of this program will be at least $10 million. This approximation does not include the start-up and ongoing expenses of the state bureaucracy needed to administer the new benefit or its future growth. I believe it is also the camel’s nose under the tent. Once established, it is inevitable that the same rationale for this initiative – protecting the health and welfare of all Delaware residents, legal or otherwise – will be applied to covering all undocumented residents.
“To be clear, illegal immigrants are not unserved. They can receive medical care at certain health facilities and may also qualify for emergency Medicaid, which covers access to health care in urgent situations. While I empathize with the desire to help children, even those here illicitly, I cannot support a bill asking Delawareans to pay for a generous benefit program for undocumented immigrants when so many of their own needs are unmet.”
Thus far, 27 of the General Assembly’s 40 Democratic lawmakers have pledged their support as sponsors or co-sponsors of the measure.
The bill is pending action in the House Health & Human Development Committee. If enacted, the bill would take effect January 1, 2023.