By Jonathan Shorman
October 31, 2015

A new study shows the number of children in Kansas without health insurance stands at an all-time low and below the national average, though advocates say barriers to public assistance are halting further progress.

About 5.5 percent of Kansas children had no health insurance in 2014, the Georgetown University report found. That is under the national average of about 6 percent.

Kansas ranked 21st among states for child uninsured rates with Alaska, Texas and Arizona having the highest rates — meaning 20 states had higher uninsured rates. West Virginia, Vermont and Massachusetts had the lowest rates.

Kansas also has one of the lower child uninsured rates among states that haven’t expanded Medicaid, the study found. In 2014, 14 states that hadn’t expanded had higher rates while nine states had lower rates.

Kansas Action for Children, which drew attention to the report this past week, said that the state’s statistics could be improved, however. KAC highlighted the fact that although the state saw no statistically significant change in the child uninsured rate between 2013 and 2014, 25 states saw decreases.

KAC blames much of what it calls stagnation to new barriers that make it more difficult to connect children to available coverage. KAC also said average monthly enrollment in Medicaid among poverty-level eligible in Kansas ages 1-5 has dropped by about 6,000 since 2012.

“The Georgetown report is one in a long line of independent analyses revealing troubling trends in child health within our state,” Shannon Cotsoradis, KAC president and CEO, said in a statement.

“While the nation as a whole works to expand health care access and affordability for children and families, Kansas policymakers remain focused on punishing poor people. Adding red tape and new barriers to state supports only ensures that today’s poor children become tomorrow’s poor adults.”

This past spring, lawmakers passed the HOPE Act, which codified a number of regulatory changes to state welfare programs Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration had already put in place.

Under the HOPE Act, families are ineligible for child care subsidies for between three-month and one-year periods if they violate policies. The law requires parents receiving a subsidy to work 20 hours a week and it also places a lifetime cap on the amount of school attendance a parent can count as an alternative.

The law drew the most attention, however, for placing a $25 per day withdrawal limit on individuals receiving cash assistance. The limit was later rescinded.

Researchers involved in the study also drew a connection between the number of uninsured children and Medicaid expansion.

“Children thrive when their parents are healthy and economically secure. Improvements in health coverage for parents benefit the whole family. Medicaid expansion would be a very smart choice for Kansas to make on behalf of its low-wage workers — and its economy,” Joan Alker, executive director of Georgetown University Center for Children and Families, said in a statement.

The Brownback administration has said the governor’s objection to expansion is primarily moral. The administration has framed the issue as a choice between providing resources to disabled individuals and assisting able-bodied adults.

“Instead, this Obamacare ruse funnels money to big city hospitals, creates a new entitlement class, and fails to rightly prioritize service for disabled citizens,” deputy spokeswoman Melika Willoughby said in an email to Brownback supporters in early October. “Governor Brownback will maintain his commitment to provide care to vulnerable Kansans before able-bodied adults.”

Read more from the Topeka Capital Journal.