A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Emily Beauregard: More Kentucky young children lack health insurance, but things could be changing

If you’ve ever had young children, you know how often they need to see a doctor. With well-baby appointments, routine immunizations for toddlers, and screenings for development milestones with preschoolers, pediatricians recommend that children have 15 check-ups by the time they’re 6 years old.

That’s why it’s so alarming that the number of children under age 6 without health coverage is growing. After years of progress in getting kids covered, the nation now has more than 1 million uninsured young children, a significant increase of 114,000 from 2016 to 2018, according to an analysis by the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families.

Kentucky is among the 11 states where both the number and rate of uninsured young children has increased significantly in that two-year period. Uninsured children under age 6 in our state increased by a devastating 50.7 percent, which translates to 12,973 of our youngest children without access to care.

Emily Beauregard is the executive director of Kentucky Voices for Health.

The implications are profound for these children and their families. Without access to health coverage, kids could miss the routine and necessary care that will help them thrive. Developmental delays or problems with hearing and vision might go undiagnosed, making it harder for them to succeed once they reach school. Research shows that health insurance for children is linked to better health, educational, and economic outcomes well into adulthood.

Regular visits to the pediatrician are also important avenues to support parents and other caregivers in their own health and successful parenting. Positive relationships are the foundation of healthy development for young children. When a parent is sick or suffering from depression, that can have a profound effect on bonding with children.

There’s also a financial concern: An unexpected illness for a baby or toddler or a simple playground accident could lead to significant medical bills for a family that lacks health coverage. When even one family member is uninsured, the whole family is less economically secure.

The increase in the number and rate of uninsured young children corresponds with a similar increase among older children, bringing the total number of uninsured Kentucky kids to 40,000. Older children are typically less likely to be insured, though in six states, the rate of uninsured children is higher among the younger set. Kentucky is one of those states. It’s particularly troubling that this is happening at a time when the economy is relatively strong. Children should be gaining coverage, not losing it.

Why is this happening? The Georgetown University report points to a number of policies and government actions that have made it harder for families to enroll in and renew public coverage for children through Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). That includes cuts and delays in enrollment outreach funding and increased red tape for signing up children and parents.

It also involves the confusion that arose from Congressional attempts to gut Medicaid and delay renewing CHIP. And it extends to the climate of fear and hostility toward immigrants that have left many families afraid to sign up their eligible children.

Providing health coverage for parents can also improve coverage for children. That’s where the Medicaid expansion comes in. Fortunately in Kentucky, Gov. Andy Beshear just proposed a biennial budget that not only fully funds Medicaid Expansion, it includes additional funding for Kentucky’s Children’s Health Insurance Program (KCHIP) outreach and enrollment.

That’s a big first step in getting coverage for the estimated 40,000 Kentucky kids who currently uninsured and could be eligible for Medicaid, KCHIP, or a Marketplace plan.

Coverage is key to a healthier and wealthier commonwealth. Having health insurance gives families critical access to preventive care, immunizations and routine screenings that can identify delays early, well before a child enters school. Addressing preventable delays and conditions early is not only important to school readiness, it can serve to set a child on the course to healthy lifelong development and economic security.

As Kentucky’s legislators develop their 2020-2021 biennium budget, they should join Gov. Beshear in prioritizing access to healthcare for Kentucky kids and their families.

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