Improvements in Insuring Kids Need to Continue

Important news came out this week about Texas and its uninsured children. The Census Bureau released data on how many people have health insurance, as well as data on poverty and income levels. If we look at how our children’s health coverage fared there are two stories to tell. One is: Texas is doing better at enrolling our children in health insurance programs. The other is: We still need to do more, as evidenced by the fact that we have more uninsured kids than any state. First, for the good news. According to an analysis of past Census data from The Urban Institute and funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the rate of Texas children who are eligible for and enrolled in Children’s Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) has been steadily increasing. Texas had a participation rate in public insurance for children of just 75% back in 2008, but it climbed to 76% in 2009, and 80% in 2010, an earlier report showed; it was up to 82% in 2011, according to the latest report. The availability of these critical, affordable health insurance options cuts the number of uninsured children by hundreds of thousands in just a few years.

This is great progress that Texas can be proud of. Hard work within state agencies to make improvements to our CHIP and Medicaid system over the years, community partners working across Texas to enroll children and the efforts of people involved with the Connecting Kids to Coverage Challenge have all helped make this possible. Participation rates in the state are expected to continue to grow with implementation of the Affordable Care Act in 2014.

However, it isn’t all good news on the children’s coverage front. Texas has the highest overall number of uninsured children and of Medicaid- or CHIP-eligible kids not enrolled. In 2011, the Urban Institute report says, Texas children made up 15% of the nation’s total eligible but uninsured kid population. In fact, although our Medicaid and CHIP participation rate increased, it was still the eighth-worst among states.

Children not being able to get enrolled in the public health insurance options designed for them is an underlying cause for Texas’ high children’s uninsured rate overall. This translates to over 1 million Texas children without insurance of any kind, according to the Census’ Current Population Survey. This is a missed opportunity for all Texans. When children have healthcare coverage they are more likely to:

  • stay healthier with regular checkups,
  • get needed immunizations,
  • be in school learning instead of home with a sickness and
  • get medical care before a small illness can turn into a big one.

Opportunities through federal health reform will ensure that nearly every child has access to affordable coverage. Starting Oct 1, Texas families can enroll in coverage through the federally facilitated Health Insurance Marketplace. Financial assistance will be available to make coverage fit with families’ budgets, even for the families who have traditionally been priced out of the market.

There are also a number of changes coming for families enrolling their children (or expectant moms) in Medicaid and CHIP. The Affordable Care Act is cutting some of the red tape that stood between families and the coverage they need for their children—meaning kids who were once denied services might be able to get help now, and stay covered, too.

Finally, if Texas gets smart and decides to allow low-income hard working parents to enroll in Medicaid, studies show that their children are more likely to be enrolled and stay enrolled. The pieces are there to give all children the healthcare coverage they need. It’s up to state leadership to put them together.

Written by: Clayton Travis, Texans Care for Children. Cross-posted from State of the Children blog.