Illinois Healthcare News| December 16, 2018
Number of Uninsured Children on the Rise for the First Time in a Decade
For the first time in a decade, the number of children without health insurance in the U.S. rose, with the rate rising by 8 percent in Illinois, according to a new report from the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute.
According to the report, in Illinois, the number of uninsured children below the age of 19 rose to 89,000 in 2017, up from 82,000 the previous year. The state ranked 40th in terms of the number of uninsured children.
The rate of uninsured children in 2017 was 2.9 percent, up from 2.6 percent the previous year. However, this is lower than the 5 percent national rate.
The Georgetown University of Health Policy Institute noted that the rate had declined for several years due to bipartisan efforts to extend coverage through Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
“But in 2017, approximately 276,000 more children became uninsured, leading to a total of 3.9 million uninsured children nationwide. The rate for children age 18 and under went up from 4.7 percent in 2016 to 5 percent in 2017, according to our analysis of U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey data,” the institution said in a statement.
Of concern to the researchers was that the number of children without insurance coverage had gone up during a period of relative economic strength, an ominous sign were the economy suddenly to suffer a downturn. They said with a growing economy, they expected more children to be covered by employer sponsored schemes.
“With an improving economy and low unemployment rate, the fact that our nation is going backwards on children’s health coverage is very troubling. Without serious efforts to get back on track, the decline in coverage is likely to continue in 2018 and may in fact get worse for America’s children,” the report’s co-author, Joan Alker, Executive Director of the Center for Children and Families and a research professor at the Georgetown McCourt School of Public Policy, said.
Alker pointed out that the majority of uninsured children were eligible for Medicaid or CHIP but were not enrolled.
Trump administration rhetoric contributes to decline in child coverage
She said a contributory factor to the decline in the number of insured children could be the constant barrage of news in 2017 about President Donald Trump and Congress trying to take coverage away – “first with the attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and make drastic cuts to Medicaid, all of which continued with a last gasp effort in September 2017.”
“Then on September 30, funding for CHIP expired and, in an unprecedented delay, Congress did not extend funding until early 2018 – again with families hearing that their state might have to close its CHIP program. At the same time, the Trump administration began efforts to sabotage the ACA’s Marketplace including cuts to advertising, outreach and enrollment funding for navigators – who were playing an important role connecting families with public coverage, with the repeal efforts raising insurer uncertainty and driving up premiums,” Alker said.
This was further exacerbated by what was described as the Trump administration’s hostile attitude towards immigrant families, with Alker saying of these “mixed status” families, “there is likely a heightened fear of interacting with the government and this may be deterring them from signing their eligible children up for government sponsored health coverage.”
This is a view shared by Kathy Waligora, Interim Executive Director of EverThrive Illinois, who felt the rhetoric from the Trump administration had left people confused about whether they can get insured
“It has left people confused about whether or not they can afford insurance for themselves or their families. And it has scared immigrants that are fearful that enrolling in benefits could have a negative impact on their ability to remain in the country,” Waligora said.
Waligora said she was not expecting the attitude of the federal government to change and this could lead to a further increase in the number of uninsured children. Instead she cautioned Illinois to “take action in the coming months, in the coming year, to protect kids’ health.”
What the national picture looks like
Nationally, the study found that three-quarters of the children who lost health insurance in 2017 live in states that have not expanded Medicaid, such as Texas, Florida and Georgia. The study further says Texas saw its rate of uninsured children rise from 9.8 percent in 2016 to 10.7 percent in 2017 – the highest uninsured rate of any state in the country.
One in five uninsured U.S. children live in Texas, the report said.
The report also paints a grim picture, saying no state “saw meaningful movement in the right direction, nine states had the worst possible outcome and saw statistically significant increases in their rate of uninsured children. These states are (in order of magnitude) South Dakota, Utah, Texas, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida, Ohio, Tennessee, and Massachusetts.”
Alker said only the District of Columbia recorded any measurable progress in reducing the number of uninsured children in 2017.