Undocumented Utah children are now able to apply for state CHIP benefits


Maddie McCarthy


On Jan.1st, the Utah Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) opened applications for the new State Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which expands CHIP eligibility benefits for children under 19 who are not US citizens.

Lawful permanent residents in the US are generally able to receive Medicaid or CHIP benefits after a five-year waiting period from when they receive their qualified immigration status, as long as they also meet the state’s income and residency requirements.

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However, most states do not have a state-funded program to allow non-qualified immigrants to receive such benefits, since Medicaid and CHIP are federally funded. 

Under the new program, Utah children who are not able to receive traditional Medicaid or CHIP benefits due to immigration status can apply for State CHIP.

The program is in ordinance with Senate Bill 217, sponsored by Sen. Luz Escamilla (D-Salt Lake County) and Rep. James A. Dunnigan (R-Salt Lake County), which legislators passed during the 2023 legislative session.

“Because of this new legislation, the state is closer to achieving the vision of all Utahns having fair and equitable opportunities to live safe and healthy lives,” DHHS said in a statement sent to State of Reform. 

Children who are eligible and receive benefits from this program will have access to a variety of services, including well-child exams, dental care, behavioral healthcare, and more.

Matt Slonaker, executive director of the Utah Health Policy Project (UHPP), told State of Reform that the organization is happy to see how many people have been able to gain coverage through the program. 

UHPP has health access assisters that assist and educate people on all things health coverage, among other duties. The assisters have been helping people navigate and apply for the new program.

“Many of the children we are assisting have not received necessary health care services for some time,” Slonaker said. “The program is simply life changing for so many immigrant children and their families.” 

Rosario Bauer, one of the health access assisters with Take Care Utah, a program of UHPP, said State CHIP is giving children the chance for better lives.

“As a Health Access Assister I’ve had the chance to work closely with a lot of clients, some of them are noncitizens and I can see how grateful they are because they are now being considered for this program. One of my clients has been living here in Utah since she left her country four years ago. 

She has a child with muscular dystrophy that needs treatment, but since they arrived in the US this little kid hasn’t had the opportunity to go to the doctor because of the cost. This mom cried when we did the application because now her child will have the opportunity to get a treatment and have a better life.”


Since applications opened, 104 children have been enrolled. DHHS said it estimates there is enough funding to cover up to 2,000 children.

“Applications will continue to be accepted until the program has reached the maximum number of children who can be covered on State CHIP,” DHHS said. “… Once enrollment has closed, applications will not be accepted until the next open enrollment period.”

Voices for Utah children reported that there were over 10,000 undocumented children living in Utah in 2019. Since they do not qualify for traditional Medicaid and CHIP, previously they must have been on a private or employer-funded insurance program in order to be covered. 

As a state with a high rate of uninsured children, around six percent, the program may help to lower that number. 

“The State CHIP program opens new doors for noncitizen children to have a consistent doctor and health home,” said Julie Sotelo, a manager for Take Care Utah. “This program not only opens the door to a new beginning for these families, but also provides the opportunity for a new era of change for undocumented families.”

DHHS states it will not report those enrolled into the program to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“Families may apply online at chip.utah.gov or by calling 1-877-543-7669. The Department of Workforce Services (DWS) offers help with interpreter and translation needs by requesting assistance over the phone at 1-866-435-7414 or going into a local DWS office.”


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