Restrictions on SCHIP Enrollment Affecting Hispanics in Missouri
Even though many Hispanic immigrants in Missouri qualify for programs such as SCHIP, many remain uninsured, in part because of concern about their immigration status, as well as federal and state restrictions on their eligibility, the Columbia Missourian reports. Of the nearly three million uninsured Hispanic children in the U.S., 70% are eligible for SCHIP but do not apply because of language barriers or fear of deportation of other family members. Catherine Martarella, a program director for Citizens for Missouri's Children, said, "A mixed-status family, where the child is here legally but the parent is here illegally, is not likely to apply for assistance."
In addition, federal law prevents legal immigrants from applying for federal benefits until they have been in the U.S. for five years. While considering the reauthorization of SCHIP in July, U.S. House lawmakers approved an amendment, known as the Immigrant Children's Health Improvement Act, that would have eliminated the restriction. However, the amendment was not included in the final bill that passed in September, according to the Missourian. President Bush earlier in October vetoed the bill, which would have reauthorized SCHIP and expanded the program to more children.
In Missouri, about 20,000 of the 150,000 legal immigrants in the state are children that would be eligible for SCHIP if the rule were lifted, according to Joan Suarez, chair of the Missouri Immigrant and Refugee Advocates.
Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt (R) in 2005 restricted eligibility for the state's version of SCHIP, requiring applicants to show that they could not afford private insurance at a rate 9% lower than the family's income. State lawmakers recently attempted to reverse the restriction and instead require families to prove they could not afford private insurance that is 3% lower than their income. According to the Missourian, enrollment in the state's SCHIP has dropped by 70,000 since 2004.
"Unless we address these barriers, the insurance gap is going to grow," Jennifer Nu'gandu, senior health policy analyst at the National Council of La Raza, said. She added, "Congress has an opportunity to come back and rectify the mistake of leaving legal immigrant children out of the health care debate" (Ballenger, Columbia Missourian, 10/22).