11 December 2019 | Health

RELEASE: Rising uninsured rate threatens healthy development of young Kansas kids

Dec. 11, 2019

TOPEKA, Kansas — State-by-state analysis finds the rate of uninsured young children is higher and increasing more rapidly in states that have refused to expand Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

Kansas is one of the 13 states where the rate of uninsured young children has increased significantly in a two-year period. The state’s rate has increased from 3.9 percent in 2016 to 4.9 percent in 2018, according to an analysis by the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families.

“Lawmakers must ensure our state’s children can see the doctor when they get sick without creating devastating financial hardship,” said Kansas Action for Children President John Wilson. “Medicaid expansion supports parents’ health and makes it more likely their children will be covered.”

The nation’s youngest children are increasingly losing health coverage, leaving them vulnerable at a time when they need regular check-ups, vaccinations and screenings to ensure their healthy development. 

In a companion piece to its annual report on uninsured children, the Georgetown University center took a close look at health coverage for children under age 6 and found that more than 1 million lacked insurance in 2018. That’s up nearly 115,000 from 2016, a statistically significant increase that mirrors national trends for all children. The rate of uninsured young children climbed from 3.8 percent to 4.3 percent in that two-year period. 

“This reverses years of progress in making sure children have access to quality health care,” said Elisabeth Wright Burak, senior fellow at the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families. “It’s particularly concerning that so many infants, toddlers and preschool-aged children are going without insurance. Young children need at least 15 check-ups by the time they are 6. Missing this critical care can affect their health and their school success in future years.” 

During these early years, children experience rapid brain development and physical growth, making the period before kindergarten entry a critical window to address any development delays or health conditions before they escalate into greater challenges. 

In addition, well-child visits are also increasingly seen as opportunities to engage parents and other caregivers in their own health and successful parenting, since positive relationships are the foundation of healthy development for young children. 

The analysis found that the rate of uninsured young children is higher and increasingly more rapidly in states that have refused to expand Medicaid to low-income adults. Children often gain coverage when their parents enroll in Medicaid. 

States need to take a hard look at any unnecessary bureaucratic barriers to enrolling or retaining young children’s health coverage. Some states have streamlined enrollment and reduced paperwork burdens on families to help ensure children have continuous coverage. Kansas leaders should follow that example and:

  • Ensure no newborn leaves the hospital without coverage, by allowing secure Medicaid and CHIP enrollment portals in hospitals across the state.
  • Request federal permission to pilot five-year continuous Medicaid eligibility for children under age 6.

Providing health coverage for parents can also improve coverage for children. That’s where the Medicaid expansion comes in. Currently, Kansas offers Medicaid coverage only to parents who earn 38 percent of the federal poverty level, or $8,105 per year for a family of three in 2019.