While the president’s health care law has significantly sliced the uninsured rates for low income people, minorities and adults in general this year, new research shows that the Affordable Care Act has yet to make a substantial impact on one very important population: kids.
In two new reports from the Urban Institute and Georgetown’s Center for Children and Families (CCF) that examine how Obamacare has impacted families, researchers concluded there was no “statistically significant change” in the uninsured rate for kids 17 and younger between September 2013 and June of this year—the time spanning the law’s first solid year of implementation.
This was not particularly surprising, the reports’ authors said, since the uninsured rate for children is already hovering at historic lows thanks to Medicaid and the Child Health Insurance Program (CHIP)-which now covers more than 8.1 million people.
“The success of these programs over the last decades, makes it harder to move the needle,” Urban Institute’s Genevieve Kenney said in a press briefing on Tuesday. The uninsured rate for children has been declining in the past decade— to around 7.3 percent, though it had not declined further under the ACA.
“It’s hard to move an uninsured rate that is so low so quickly,” Kenney said.
The low uninsured rates are due to the expansion of public coverage for children over the past several decades. As the report notes, more than half of all states offer coverage through Medicaid or CHIP to children with families with incomes that are 250 percent of the federal poverty level. Children’s participation in Medicaid is much higher than adults—it reached 88.1 percent in 2012.
The researchers think the uninsured rate for children has potential to dip even lower in the future through Medicaid expansion, as well as if CHIP funding is continued at current levels. The program’s funding expires next year, so Congress must approve it before Sept 30, 2015.
“If Congress takes no action and CHIP funding is not continued, you would see a big increase in uninsured children,” CCF’s Joan Alker said in the media briefing. She estimated, “500,000 to 200,000 nationally children could become uninsured if CHIP is not extended.”
Right now, the report says, the majority of uninsured children have incomes that would make them eligible through CHIP or Medicaid. But problems with backlog in enrollment processing have prohibited some from receiving coverage.
“Many states are working through considerable backlogs for Medicaid or CHIP and we expect many of those to be children,” the researchers said.
And while researchers did not find that Obamacare had a significant impact on uninsured rates for children, they did find a sizable difference in the uninsured rate for parents—specifically in states that expanded their Medicaid programs.
So far, the uninsured rate among parents—especially low and middle-income people—has fallen to record low levels within the last year. The uninsured rate for parents dropped 14.4 percent between last September and June 2014. In states that chose to expand their Medicaid programs, that number dropped 33.3 percent. Meanwhile, there was “no statistically significant change” in states that did not expand their program.
“Parents in nonexpanding states were almost twice as likely to be uninsured as parents in expanding states,” the authors said.
“As states continue to expand Medicaid, we certainly expect enrollment will increase,” Alker said “Medicaid and CHIP programs have potential to drive uninsured rates down even further.”
She added that there are several states currently considering expanding their Medicaid programs including Indiana, Utah and Wyoming. “Next year we’re going to see more action on this, once the midterm elections are over.”
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