Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Tuesday November 26th, 2013, 2:16pm

Fewer Illinois Children Lack Health Insurance, New National Report Shows

As the national debate over health insurance rages on, a new report from the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families has revealed some sunny news for Illinois.

Illinois had the fourth-lowest rate of uninsured kids in 2012, making the state a national leader when it comes to getting children enrolled in health care coverage.

The number of Illinois children with health insurance increased by nearly 40,000 between 2010 and 2012, reducing the state's uninsured rate for those under the age of 18 to 3.3 percent. Overall, the children's uninsured rate in Illinois dropped by 1.2 percentage points between 2010 and 2012, according to the report, which analyzed data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS).

“Illinois residents and its leaders should be proud of the progress we’ve made improving children’s coverage,” Andrea Kovach with the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law said in a statement. “And we should be excited about more of their parents getting coverage for the first time as a result of new coverage choices under the Affordable Care Act. When every member of the family has coverage, kids are more likely to get regular preventive care to keep them healthy and see a health care provider sooner when they are sick.”

At the national level, the children's uninsured rate in 2012 was 7.2 percent, down 2.1 percentage points from 2008, the first year the ACS began collecting data on health insurance coverage. More than 650,000 children gained health insurance from 2010 to 2012, according to the report.

Children fared better in 2012 than adults ages 18 to 64. In that age group, the national uninsured rate was 20.6 percent. Strict adult Medicaid eligibility requirements are at least one reason why more older people are uninsured than children, the report explained.

Uninsured rates among both kids and adults are expected to improve in 2014 and beyond due to the Affordable Care Act and the states, including Illinois, that have expanded their Medicaid programs.

The recent report about health insurance trends comes in light of a new survey, which revealed that most Americans are unaware the number of uninsured children has ticked down over the past five years.

Of the 1,000 adults surveyed, 55 percent said they believed the number of uninsured children in their state had increased over the last five years, while 30 percent thought the number had stayed the same, according to the national poll conducted by PerryUndem Research and Communications on behalf of the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families. Just 13 percent of those surveyed said they believed the number of uninsured children had correctly decreased in the past five years.

The survey, which was fielded by Knowledge Networks using a nationally representative online panel, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percent. The survey was conducted from September 20 to September 22.

Georgetown University researchers noted that despite a sluggish economic recovery and a high national poverty rate among children, which was 22.6 percent in 2012, the number of uninsured kids continues to decline.

Programs like Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) are largely credited for increasing access to health care coverage. Families who have lost their health coverage and cannot afford to pay for insurance have been able to tap into both programs during tough economic times, the report explained.

“Growth in coverage rates is particularly encouraging at a time when we’re seeing the number of children and families falling into poverty grow,” Kovach added. “Health insurance coverage greatly improves the economic security of families who are faced with tough budget decisions on a daily basis."

Joan Alker, one of the report's authors, highlighted Illinois' All Kids program as one successful federal-state partnership working to get more children enrolled in coverage. The program, which launched in 2006, offers health insurance to all Illinois children, regardless of immigration status, who are living in families with incomes up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level.

“All Kids is improving health insurance coverage for children and is a testament to what states can accomplish when they lean in and work with the federal government to meet the needs of their residents,” Alker said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the report showed that Illinois still has more work to do, as some 101,000 people under the age of 18 were still uninsured in 2012. The majority of children without health insurance are typically eligible for Medicaid or CHIP but are not enrolled, the report noted.

And although the nation as a whole has seen recent success in reducing the number of children who lack health insurance, the south and west regions of the country are not improving as quickly as others. About 45.5 percent of uninsured children live in the south, 29.4 percent in the west, 15.6 percent in the Midwest and 9.4 percent in the northeast, the report reads.

“The lag in these regions shows us that while we have made tremendous progress overall, our work is not done,” Alker stressed. “It’s important for national and state leaders to continue their commitment to covering kids. Investing in our children’s health today helps create a strong workforce for tomorrow.”

Comments

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More Illinois children could and can have affordable health insurance if politicians and legislators worked more intensely on enforcing child support. The number of delinguent non custodial parents who are behind in child support payments and court orders mandating health insurance for their children is pathetic. Child support enforcement with stricter penalties like jail time would end some lack of health insurance for kids and should be politicians top priority. Gabrielle J Hunt

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