Three years ago, the figures released by the Census Bureau suggested that almost nine million children in the US were uninsured. This is despite the fact that about 28 million children were allowed access to Medicaid and a further seven million received help from the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. Put another way, almost 12% of children were uninsured. In a society that claims to protect the interests of children, this makes for depressing reading.
In recent years, the majority of children have been covered by health plans paid for by their parents’ employers. Unfortunately, the cost of family plans has been rising more steeply than for individual coverage. With employee contributions rising faster than inflation, many parents have been forced to drop out of group cover. This has left Medicaid with the increasing task of providing cover for low-income families. Where parents earn more than the maximum allowed for Medicaid eligibility, SCHIP targets families who cannot afford private coverage. Unfortunately, two factors have combined to increase the number of uninsured children.
As the recession hit in 2008, unemployment rose and the amount of tax collected fell. This meant the individual US states responsible for supporting SCHIP began to run severe budget deficits. Since the idea of tax increases is politically impossible, this has forced states to cut back on all discretionary spending. Consequently, many have redefined the level at which they intervene to provide health coverage for children. As if this was not bad enough, there has been a reduction in the publicity given to the SCHIP plans. Parents are no longer prompted to apply for coverage even when their income would make their children eligible for support. Put the two together and the Congressional Budget Office confirms the number of uninsured children has been rising steadily.
This is a difficult time for healthcare in the US. Almost everyone agrees the current system should be reformed, but there’s no real sign of agreement between the political parties on what should be done. While Washington struggles to enact legislation, more children should be brought within the existing schemes – SCHIP was reauthorized for a further 10 year term in 2007 with bipartisan support. Almost all the children currently uninsured would be eligible under either or both Medicaid or SCHIP. All it needs is a properly run advertizing campaign to alert families to their entitlements and the political will to make funds available. So long as private health insurance policies remain unaffordable for the majority of families and employer-provided group plans are imposing sharply increased premiums, the number of uninsured children will rise steadily.
This trend will accelerate as unemployment rises during the recession. It’s a national scandal that the health of children is being put at risk by denying adequate health insurance coverage. If no co-ordinated federal plan is put in place, families should protect themselves by applying to both Medicaid and their local SCHIP for help. It’s important to remember that the Congressional Budget Office confirms almost all the children currently uninsured would be entitled to access Medicaid or SCHIP. This is your right and it protects the future of the country. Everyone loses if children die or suffer inadequate health care because health insurance is denied.