Quantcast

Utah lags behind other states in covering kids

Published November 29, 2011 4:27 pm

Health care • Safety nets fill void left by declining employer - based insurance, report says.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Even as unemployment and child poverty has grown, the uninsured rate for children nationally — and in Utah — has shrunk, an analysis of census data shows.

From 2008 to 2010 the number of American children living in poverty rose 19 percent, while the number of uninsured children fell 14 percent, according to a report released Tuesday by Georgetown University's Center for Children and Families.

How, given the high cost of health care, is this possible? Two words, say Georgetown researchers: Medicaid and CHIP, the Children's Health Insurance Program.

Over the past decade, states have expanded eligibility and streamlined applications and renewals, boosting enrollment in the low-income health programs. The programs have filled a void created by a decline in employer-based health insurance, providing "much-needed peace of mind to families struggling to gain solid footing during turbulent economic times," say the report's authors.

Every state plus the District of Columbia has succeeded at covering more kids.

But some states are doing a better job than others.

Utah's performance is just below average. Last year, 94,691 kids were without health coverage, down 13.8 percent from 107,821 in 2008.

That worries advocates who say Utah already ranks 43rd on a per capita basis for its rate of uninsured kids.

"We may not be falling behind quickly, but we're still falling behind," said Lincoln Nehring, health policy analyst at Voices for Utah Children.

Utah has taken steps to streamline eligibility, including removing the cap on CHIP enrollment in 2008, making the program open to all eligible.

The state also now verifies family incomes by referencing income tax returns, reducing the paperwork that families need to file. State officials are also experimenting with online applications and tools that spare families from having to submit duplicate information to enroll in multiple public programs.

But those changes have yielded only incremental gains, said Nehring. "We haven't looked at tried-and-true steps proven by other states to work."

Nehring would like to see the state take full advantage of its computerized eligibility system and set up a "bill payer" platform for CHIP families to make automatic premium payments.

But he said bigger gains could be made by guaranteeing children on Medicaid 12 months of continuous eligibility. That's how it's done in most states, while Utah parents can periodically be asked to re-submit proof of eligibility.

This leads to churning, unnecessary administrative costs and makes it more difficult for the private insurers that administer the program to help clients better manage their care, Nehring said.

Utah should also remove the asset test on Medicaid, said Nehring. Only Texas, South Carolina and Utah withhold benefits from children whose parents have assets.

The asset test is expensive to administer, weeds out very few applicants, and sends the wrong message to families: that they should not save for their future, say advocates. Anything of value is considered an asset with a few exceptions. Families here, for example, can own one vehicle.

kstewart@sltrib.com

For the full report: http://1.usa.gov/rWdDxN

Health coverage for kids

While the country made great progress in covering children, coverage varies from state to state.

Thirty-three states succeeded at covering more kids between 2008 and 2010. Only one state, Minnesota, lost significant ground with a .7 percent increase in the number of uninsured children.

Florida made the most progress in reducing the number of uninsured children over the three-year period, but it still has one of the highest rates and largest number of uninsured children in the nation. Just five states (Arizona, Florida, Georgia, New York and Texas) account for more than half of the uninsured children nationally.

There are also demographic variances. Latino and Native American children remain disproportionately uninsured, older children are less likely to be covered than younger children, and uninsured rates are higher for children living in families earning below 50 percent of the poverty line.

Source: Georgetown Center for Children and Families, "Despite Economic Challenges: Progress Continues: Children's Health Insurance Coverage in the United States from 2008-2010." —

Health coverage for kids

Although the country made great progress in covering children, coverage varies from state to state.

Thirty-three states succeeded at covering more kids between 2008 and 2010. Only one state, Minnesota, lost significant ground with a 0.7 percent increase in the number of uninsured children.

Just five states (Arizona, Florida, Georgia, New York and Texas) account for more than half of the uninsured children nationally.

There are also demographic variances. Latino and Native American children remain disproportionately uninsured, older children are less likely to be covered than younger children, and uninsured rates are higher for children living in families earning below 50 percent of the poverty line.

Source: Georgetown Center for Children and Families, "Despite Economic Challenges: Progress Continues: Children's Health Insurance Coverage in the United States from 2008-2010." —

Read the report

O For the full report, visit > 1.usa.gov/rWdDxN