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'I worry about these kids': Rates of uninsured children in Idaho, U.S. on the rise

Idaho Statesman logo Idaho Statesman 10/30/2019 By Scott Mcintosh, The Idaho Statesman

After years of consistent declines, the number of uninsured children in Idaho and the United States is on the rise again.

Idaho is one of six states in the country where the rate of uninsured children has risen 25 percent or more from 2016 to 2018.

Idaho shares that distinction with West Virginia, Tennessee, Alabama, Ohio and Montana, according to a new nationwide study released Wednesday by the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute.

“The policy reasons for the loss in coverage for kids are continuing in 2019 and perhaps even accelerating, which suggests these numbers will continue to go in the wrong direction when we get this year’s numbers next fall,” said the report’s lead author, Joan Alker, of the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute Center for Children and Families, during a conference call Tuesday with reporters. “These findings should be a clear call for action among our political leaders if they care about children’s health.”

The number of uninsured children in Idaho grew by 7,000 from 2016 to 2018, a 31.8 percent increase, the third-highest percentage increase in the nation, according to the study, behind only West Virginia and Tennessee.

In Idaho, 6.1% of children do not have health insurance, ranking the Gem State No. 40 in the nation, according to the study.

In 2008, 12.8% of Idaho children were uninsured, and that rate dropped precipitously through 2017, when Idaho recorded a 4.6% uninsured rate for children, which was below the national average of 5% that year. But Idaho’s uninsured rate spiked in 2018.

The percentage of uninsured children younger than 6 was 4.9% in 2018, while the percentage of children ages 6-18 was 6.6%.

Hispanic enrollment

The study cites ramped-up “rhetoric and policies targeting immigrant communities with a campaign of fear and hostility” as a contributing factor in declining insurance rates among Hispanic children in the United States.

In Idaho, American Indian/Alaska native children had the highest uninsured rate, at 9%, followed by Hispanic children at 8%.

“These policies are now clearly deterring parents from enrolling their eligible children in Medicaid or CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program) — despite the fact that most of those children are U.S. citizens,” according to the report.

Medicaid expansion

Loss of coverage was most pronounced for states that had not expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. In the 2018 election, Idaho, through voter initiative, approved Medicaid expansion, which takes effect in January — after years of inaction by the Republican-led Legislature.

“States that have not expanded Medicaid to parents and other adults under the ACA saw an increase in the rate of uninsured kids that was three times as large as states that have,” Alker said. “Children in these states that haven’t expanded Medicaid are nearly twice as likely to be uninsured as those children living in states that have expanded Medicaid. … Which is why Medicaid expansion is a kids’ issue, though it is rarely seen as such.”

The number of uninsured children in the United States increased by more than 400,000 from 2016 to 2018, according to the study, bringing the total to more than 4 million.

The number of uninsured children in the United States hit 7.6 million in 2008 and slowly dropped to 3.6 million by 2016, before growing again to 3.9 million in 2017 and 4.1 million in 2018. The percentage growth was 4.7 percent in 2016 and 5.2 percent in 2018, according to the study.

In all, 15 states, including Idaho, showed statistically significant increases in the number and/or rate of uninsured children.

“I worry about these kids who don’t have insurance and are one illness away from ending up in the hospital due to delays in care,” said Lanre Falusi, national spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics and a pediatrician at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C. “In 2019, I should not be talking about how more children are now uninsured. We know what works. We have a long track record of success in getting children covered. We need to stop creating a climate of fear and confusion and start making it easier for families to enroll children in coverage.”

Income levels

Children from low- and moderate-income families earning between 138 percent and 250 percent of the federal poverty level ($29,435-$53,325 for a family of three) had the sharpest increase in their uninsured rate and the highest uninsured rate compared with other children, according to the study.

Nationally, the uninsured rate stayed about the same for children in 0-137% of federal poverty level, but the rate increased from 6.9% to 7.3% for those in the middle-income group.

Idaho saw that trend, as well, with the highest uninsured rate for that middle group (8.3%).

“We’ve had a welcome mat for coverage for kids for many years,” Alker said. “We’ve had a culture of coverage for kids. That welcome mat has been withdrawn.”

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©2019 The Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho)

Visit The Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho) at www.idahostatesman.com

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