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Vt. lawmakers look at expanding health care to undocumented kids, pregnant women

Published: May. 4, 2021 at 6:37 PM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont is on the verge of providing health care to several dozen undocumented migrants.

The idea is to expand eligibility to Dr. Dynasaur. That state program is similar to Medicaid and provides health and dental care to children and pregnant women.

Right now, 61,000 Vermont children under the age of 19 are on Dr. Dynasaur. More than 1,300 pregnant women are, too.

Now, a bill in the Statehouse would expand that coverage to undocumented children and pregnant women.

Producer Daniela Fierro and I spoke with one migrant woman about what this could mean for her and her family.

Yadira, 27, is an undocumented worker and mother who lives on a Northeast Kingdom farm.

Her oldest child was born in Mexico and her youngest was born in America.

“His biggest fear is his little brother because he’s an American citizen,” she said. “He asks what’s going to happen? Are they going to take my little brother?”

Yadira says that even at a young age, her older son has perspective on their life in the shadows.

“That a kid his age thinks about that, when he shouldn’t be worrying, the health, about who is going to pay for the bills if he gets sick,” she said.

It’s something Yadira knows too well after she got sick.

“The bills get here and they’re thousands and thousands of dollars,” she said.

But a bill in the Statehouse could change that.

Rep. Alyssa Black is a member of the House Committee on Health Care. She says bill H.430 would make health care available for all income-eligible children and pregnant women in the state, regardless of their immigration status.

“We have taken all the benefits that you would receive under Dr. Dynosaur without having to go through multi-application and denial process,” said Black, D-Essex.

Black says there are an estimated 100 undocumented children in Vermont and 20 undocumented women get pregnant in the state each year.

This bill spends an estimated $1.2 million from the general fund to give them all health care under Dr. Dynasaur. Another 200,000 would be spent to educate migrants about the program and get them signed up.

Advocates like Migrant Justice say this is welcome news that could prevent a medical tragedy.

“People who have health needs and don’t have access to insurance, they are getting bills for thousands of thousands of dollars and that causes them to deny care. They won’t go to the clinic, they won’t go to the hospital if they know they are going to end up in medical debt,” said Will Lambek of Migrant Justice.

He argues the bill would save the state money.

“The state ends up paying for that because uninsured people still have health expenses and if they can’t pay for it, somebody needs to,” Lambek said.

Black agrees.

“We are paying for that care in our health insurance, in our commercial insurance policies,” she said.

The House is expected to vote on that bill this week. Gov. Phil Scott was asked about it last week and says he supports it.

Related Story:

Undocumented women farmworkers toil under unique challenges

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