HARRISBURG — About 125,000 Pennsylvania children 18 and younger lacked health insurance in 2017, according to a new report released by the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families.
Pennsylvania's move to expand Medicaid and other safety net programs mean that the state’s uninsured rate among children is low compared to other states. But in terms of sheer numbers, only four other states had more uninsured kids – Florida, California, Arizona and Georgia. Ohio also had 125,000 uninsured kids last year.
The state's rate of uninsured children has remained fairly steady for the past three years.
“This report shows we must double down on efforts to find and enroll all eligible children,” said Kari King, Vice President of Public Policy at Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children.
Nationally, the number of children without access to health insurance increased last year for the first time in a decade, according to the research by the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families.
“With an improving economy and low unemployment rate, the fact our nation is going backward on children’s health coverage is very troubling,” said Joan Alker, executive director of the Georgetown University research center and a research professor at the McCourt School of Public Policy. “There is every reason to believe the decline in children’s coverage is likely to continue and may get worse for America’s children.”
The number of uninsured children nationwide increased by about 276,000 children last year, to 3.9 million. Pennsylvania’s rate of uninsured children has remained steady for the past three years at 4.4 percent. That’s below the national average of 5 percent but higher than neighboring states — Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York and West Virginia. Among nearby states, only Ohio had a higher rate of uninsured kids at 4.5 percent.
Gov. Tom Wolf expanded Medicaid to make health care accessible to 700,000 people who’d previously be ineligible for assistance.
In addition, Pennsylvania has the Children’s Health Insurance Program which provides low-cost health care to families that earn too much to get coverage under Medicaid.
“Medicaid expansion has helped (we know that parents receiving health insurance make it more likely that their children will be covered) and we are fortunate to have a strong CHIP program in the state,” said King. “Some of the remaining 4.4 percent of uninsured children are eligible but just not signed up. It just underscores the need for investing in more outreach and enrollment activities directed at eligible families.”
It may be that the families didn’t apply for the assistance or were inaccurately told that they didn’t qualify for some reason, said Antoinette Kraus, director of the Pennsylvania Health Access Network.
In other cases, the children may be legal residents but have family members who are undocumented residents or the children may be undocumented themselves, she said. Children who are legal residents could be eligible for assistance under these health care coverage programs, but their family members may be unwilling to risk drawing attention to themselves by applying to get the help, Kraus said.