Delaware legislation to provide kids health care regardless of immigration status stymied

A bill to offer health care to income eligible kids and those who are pregnant regardless of immigration status is not moving forward.

The Delaware Capitol building, Dover, De.

The Delaware State House in Dover. (Tom Byrne/Delaware Public Media)

Legislation that would have provided health care coverage for uninsured kids and those who are pregnant regardless of their immigration status is not moving forward in the Delaware General Assembly.

State Rep. Krista Griffith’s House Bill 317 last year, but it failed to get a vote on the House floor last year.

“House Bill 317 [would] provide an opportunity for all of Delaware’s children to have equal access to health care and lifesaving medical coverage,” she said. “We all know that when a child has good health care, their long term odds of living a better life improve. We know that that leads to fewer hospitalizations in adulthood, fewer chronic health conditions.”

State Rep. Krista Griffith
State Rep. Krista Griffith sponsored a bill that would ensure all Delaware kids, regardless of immigration status, receive health care. (State of Delaware)

While 39% of Delaware children are covered through Medicaid or CHIP, according to the 2022 Center of Children and Families research, 3.7% of children are uninsured. That includes children without legal documents to be in the U.S. Griffith said approximately 5,000 of those kids living in Delaware would have benefited from HB 317.

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“I do know that there’s a gap here in Delaware in which there are children who are from families who came to this country, who are undocumented, that are not getting basic health coverage because there is no service available to them that’s affordable.”

Griffith said her proposal failed last year due to its high cost.

“I was really disappointed and sad,” she said. “The bill did get approved last year by the House Health Committee and then was written into the budget process where ultimately it did not proceed any further because there were no funds that were set aside to cover it.”

Griffith tried again this year with House Bill 150. This time, the legislation includes health care coverage for those who are pregnant, regardless of their legal status, paid for with federal funds.

“It seeks to allow Delaware to tap into federal funds that are available for women, regardless of their immigration status, to provide prenatal labor, delivery, and postpartum care,” Griffith said. “The federal government has a program that assists states with these costs. Delaware today is not utilizing those federal funds because they … have not set up a program.”

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Prenatal care is imperative for the uninsured, especially for the health of a newborn. Oftentimes, Delawareans who don’t have much money are late in scheduling check-ups during their pregnancy, said Maggie Bent of Westside Family Healthcare in Wilmington.

In 2022, 31% of all Westside patients were uninsured, and 49% of pregnant patients haven’t had coverage in the last nine months.

“Our children are most vulnerable and women who are pregnant are the most vulnerable Delawareans,” she said. “[There are] higher rates of low birth weight for pregnant women because they delay their care if they don’t have access to care.”

Other states have passed legislation similar to HB 150, and health care providers are urging Delaware to follow in their footsteps.

“We’re not the first to do this,” Bent said. “Eleven other states in the country already have a similar program. And there’s 24 other states plus D.C. that have a similar program covering pregnant women.”

HB 150 remains on hold for this year, with no expectation that it will get a vote in Dover before the end of this year’s session on June 30.

Griffith isn’t giving up, though. She plans to push the legislation again next year.

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