The Bulletin Board

Legislature looks at expanding access to Medicaid for immigrants

By: - February 2, 2022 3:11 pm
Representatives Hall, empty

Only the speaker, who sits in the “well” of the House at the podium, will be adequately distanced from his colleagues, Democrats argued. (Annmarie Timmins | New Hampshire Bulletin)

A bill before the Legislature would expand access to Medicaid for certain immigrants who are in the country legally, lifting a 5-year waiting period. House Bill 1578 would allow children and pregnant women legally residing in New Hampshire to access Medicaid if they are income eligible, a change advocates say is needed.

In 1996, the federal government imposed a 5-year waiting period for some immigrants to become eligible for certain benefits. But in 2009, states were given permission to eliminate the 5-year wait period for children and pregnant women who are in the country legally. New Hampshire is one of just 17 states in the country that hasn’t done so, and it’s the only New England state with the waiting period still on the books, according to the bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. Joe Schapiro, a Keene Democrat. He said the bill would expand Medicaid coverage to an estimated 300 marginalized people in the state.

While immigrants pay taxes, they are denied some social services, like health care, according to Bruno D’Britto, the president of the New Hampshire Brazilian Council and an immigration attorney.

Sandra Straus of Madbury taught English as a second language and often saw children go without needed medical care because of barriers to access.

“Sometimes they couldn’t come to school because they did not meet the medical requirements,” she told lawmakers during a public hearing on the bill in January.

Straus, who supports the bill, said she had also hosted a family seeking asylum and saw firsthand the difficulty created by the current policy. Children need immunizations and physical examinations in order to attend school; those come at a cost to families, but asylum seekers have to wait six months before they can get a work permit, putting them in a difficult position, she told lawmakers.

The bill had 170 individuals who logged their support, and three in opposition. No one testified against the bill during a hearing in January.  

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Amanda Gokee
Amanda Gokee

Amanda Gokee reported on energy and environment for New Hampshire Bulletin. She also previously reported on these issues at VTDigger. Amanda grew up in Vermont and is a graduate of Harvard University. She received her master’s degree in liberal studies, with a concentration in creative writing, from Dartmouth College. Her work has also appeared in the LA Review of Books and the Valley News.