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Undocumented children deserve health insurance, lawmaker says

Undocumented children deserve health insurance, lawmaker says
Courtesy/ Legislature. Sen. Tony Vargas.


LINCOLN–The All Kids Health Care Program could cover the thousands of kids in Nebraska who don’t have health insurance because of their immigration status.

Proposed by Sen. Tony Vargas of Omaha, Legislative Bill 922 would extend Medicaid-like health care coverage to undocumented kids regardless of how long they’ve lived in the state or their country of origin.

James Goddard, health care program director for Nebraska Appleseed, testified in favor of the bill at a legislative hearing Thursday.

“Our communities are stronger when all children are healthy,” he said.

Unlike some states, Nebraska doesn’t allow undocumented children to qualify for Medicaid and the federal Children’s Health Insurance Program, known as CHIP. That means thousands of kids in Nebraska are missing out on important screenings and preventive care, often waiting until a condition requires emergency intervention to seek help. Those costs are then shouldered by taxpayers.

Julia Tse, policy coordinator for Voices for Children, said uncompensated care cost Nebraskans $198 million in 2013.

“Health insurance coverage for children is one of the most cost-effective investments that we can make as a society,” Tse said.

While there aren’t exact figures on the number of undocumented children in the state, Andrea Skolkin, CEO of OneWorld Community Health Centers of Omaha, said 20,000 children in Nebraska are uninsured. Children who live in rural communities are disproportionately affected where 6 percent of kids lack health insurance coverage.

Childhood health care coverage is especially important because early preventive care sets kids up to be successful adults, Vargas said.

“Medicaid and CHIP both lead to improved health outcomes, reduced child mortality, fewer hospitalizations and increased educational attainments,” Vargas said.

Thomas Thompson, interim director of Medicaid and long-term care for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, testified against the bill. He said LB 922 would serve as an “additional fiscal burden” on Nebraska and the department.

For proponents of the bill, that cost is worth the positive impact the All Kids Health Care Program could have on undocumented kids in Nebraska.

“Having the All Kids Healthcare Program in place would enable significant improvement in the lives of these immigrant children, bringing them better school success and ensuring their bright future,” Skolkin said.




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