By Adam Searing, Allie Corcoran and Joan Alker | Feb. 19, 2021
We’ve been tracking the rates of uninsured children for more than a decade now, and after reaching an all-time low in 2016 nationwide, the number started going in the wrong direction over the past three years. From 2016 to 2019 approximately 726,000 more children became uninsured. The report we released today looks more closely at a phenomenon that we and others have observed – increasingly these uninsured children are clustered in the 12 states that have not expanded Medicaid to parents and other adults. While no state, except for New York, went in the right direction, non-expansion states as a group saw their child uninsured rate jump from 6.5% to 8.1% during this time period while expansion states saw it increase from 3.5% to 4.1%. In other words, the rate of uninsured children in non-expansion states grew at nearly three times the rate of expansion states.
This data was collected pre-pandemic and the situation for children and families is likely worse now. With many parents losing their jobs and their health insurance, those living in states that have not expanded Medicaid struggle even harder to find affordable health coverage as the safety net is not there to catch them.
While Medicaid expansion was designed to help the large number of uninsured adults who could not afford private insurance, the welcome mat effect for children when their parents are covered has been documented for some time. When parents gain Medicaid coverage, they are more likely to get the help they need to be healthy and effective parents, more likely to enroll their children in “whole family” health coverage, and more likely to take their children to the doctor. Medicaid coverage also protects families from the economic strains associated with medical debt and lays the groundwork for optimal child development.