Tribune Editorial: A ‘families first’ state doesn’t leave thousands of children uninsured

(Leah Hogsten | Tribune file photo) Eric Wilson rallies with supporters of full medicaid expansion at a rally August 1, 2019 at the Capitol. The percentage of Utah children without health insurance is rising, and a lack of Medicaid expansion is partially to blame.

We are supposed to be the child-friendly place. So why are we bumping kids off health insurance faster than all but one state?

A study out of Georgetown University found that the rate of uninsured children in Utah went up 22% in two years, second only to Tennessee. The 2018 data shows there were 72,000 children — 7.4% of Utah’s total child population — without health coverage. That is more than the entire student population of Granite School District.

This punches a hole in our much cherished identity as the land of families first.

The decline in insured children is happening nationally, just not as fast. It appears tied to various efforts to undermine the Affordable Care Act, which did a great job of getting children insured when it first rolled out years ago.

Utah’s failure to expand Medicaid under the ACA — even after the citizenry voted to do it — gets part of the blame, but the group losing the most ground is families just above the Medicaid line. If they don’t have insurance available from an employer, those families have to manage the ACA’s health exchange and CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program), and both programs have been political footballs.

Since 2016, Utah has seen a turnover in providers on the health exchange as the original funding guarantees were reduced by Republicans in Congress who sought to kill the ACA by starving it. A congressional fight over funding CHIP also hurt participation in that program.

They’re not making it easy, but there are semi-affordable options for working parents whose employers don’t offer insurance. The annual ACA enrollment period launched this month, and there are two new providers on Utah’s health exchange.

Meanwhile, expanding Medicaid is still a no-brainer to all but the people who control the Utah Legislature. The state’s 10 percent share for that is far less than paying the full cost of treating uninsured people when they need health care.

Whatever the path, these families need help to manage the red tape. Utah needs to do better at meeting parents where they are and helping them navigate their options, including outreach at schools, churches, rec centers and grocery stores. If you need help or know someone who does, it’s available through takecareutah.org. Or you can call the Utah Health Policy Project at (801) 433 2299 or visit them at 2369 W Orton Circle, Suite 20, West Valley City.

History has shown that insured kids are healthier than uninsured kids. Without it, small problems become big and big problems become devastating.

Families are forever? Not if the kids aren’t covered.