Young girl holding the American flag at park

Thirty-four words, just 34 words.

That’s all it took on Tuesday for the Utah legislature to remove the five-year waiting period for Medicaid and CHIP for lawfully residing immigrant children:

“The Legislature intends that the Department of Health remove the optional 5 year waiting period for legal immigrant children who currently qualify for 100% federal funding in the Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance program.”

The five-year waiting period or five-year bar, which came about in the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, required lawfully present immigrant children to wait five years before they could receive Medicaid or CHIP, if otherwise eligible.

Since 2009 when the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act (CHIPRA) gave states the option to be federally reimbursed for covering lawfully present immigrant children, a total of 28 states have done so. Some even did it before that, with state-only dollars. CHIPRA gave states the chance to take up the option to waive the five-year bar for lawfully present immigrant children and/or pregnant women. Since 2009, child advocates across the country have worked on this issue in state capitols, educating state legislators, governors. They worked with families, doctors, and business leaders to get the option passed in their states. Success came quickly to some in 2009 and 2010, while others worked on this issue for years before winning.

Lincoln Nehring, President and CEO of Voices for Utah Children, said:

It is no secret that Utah has struggled in making sure our kids have health insurance–we consistently have one of the highest uninsured rates for children in the nation. It was heartening to see the Utah legislature’s willingness to tackle this problem. And in a time where there is so much harmful rhetoric nationally regarding immigration, to pass a policy change that specifically benefits our state’s immigrant kids was particularly gratifying.”

They’ve been working on this issue for a long time in Utah. And I remember well working on this when I was the child health policy advocate in Iowa. We backed covering immigrant kids for a few years before the state passed it in 2009. In fact, I clearly recall talking to my colleagues in Utah who were working on it at the same time in their state legislature. We shared ideas and strategies, hopes and worries. We were able to win it a few years earlier in Iowa, but they didn’t give up in Utah. Successful child advocacy can take a long time, but, as we all know, it’s worth it in the end. Sometimes along the way we weaken barriers and bring others, even those we hadn’t expected, along with us.

Fast facts…

>> Utah ranks 47th in the nation in terms of uninsured children, many from Hispanic families

>> More than 23 percent of Hispanic children In Utah are uninsured

Utah legislature waives five-year bar for immigrant children! v/ @First_Focus #InvestInKids
Tweet this now.

Do you share our vision of making America a better place to be a child and raise a family? Then you should be a part of The Children’s Network, a movement led by individuals, non-profit organizations, and businesses committed to the health, education, and well-being of children in the United States. Become a part of the network and receive exclusive materials, updates, and opportunities to take action on behalf of our children.

First Focus is a bipartisan organization dedicating to making children and families the priority in federal policy and budget decisions. You can support our work by making a donation or joining The Children’s Network to receive updates and action alerts.