By Ciara Zachary
Last week we got some sobering news on children’s health in North Carolina: After years of progress, the rate of children with no health coverage in our state has reversed course. Nearly 5% of kids in North Carolina now have no health insurance (that’s 119,000 children) – despite the fact that our economy is on an upswing.
The Georgetown Center for Children & Families released a new report that showed an uptick in the rate of children without health insurance nationwide – for the first time in nearly a decade. Having health insurance means that children can get the well checks they need, starting at birth. Catching potential problems early, screening for developmental concerns, dealing with treatable conditions before they cause lasting damage, ensuring that children are properly vaccinated – these are basic steps that ensure kids are healthy, ready to start school and succeed throughout life.
How did this happen? Three-quarters of the children who lost coverage between 2016 and 2017 live in states that have not expanded Medicaid coverage to parents and other low-income adults. The uninsured rates for children increased at almost triple the rate in non-expansion states than in states that have expanded Medicaid.
So what can we do about it? One important step is to make sure that parents are covered. When parents have health insurance, kids are much more likely to be covered and get the care they need. There are over 100,000 parents in North Carolina without health insurance because they earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to buy private health insurance. This “coverage gap” contributes to a wide range of expensive problems, including this startling news on children’s coverage.
North Carolina is one of only 14 states that have not acted to close this “coverage gap,” so our citizen’s dollars are going to the 36 other states who have expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Medicaid Expansion is a top priority for Governor Cooper and NC DHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen, but so far the NC Legislature hasn’t made any promises.
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