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Report: Kids' Health Care Improves in U.S.; AZ Gets Worse

PHOTO: Nationally, more children are being covered by health insurance, but a new report says Arizona is second among the states for the most children losing coverage. Photo credit: Microsoft Images.
November 20. 2013
PHOTO: Nationally, more children are being covered by health insurance, but a new report says Arizona is second among the states for the most children losing coverage. Photo credit: Microsoft Images.

PHOENIX - While health coverage for children is improving nationwide, more kids in Arizona are losing coverage.

According to a new report from the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families, Arizona ranks second in the nation for the number of children who lost insurance coverage between 2010 and 2012. During the same time period, center executive director Joan Alker said 40 other states saw improvement in children's coverage - even though polling shows most people believe the opposite.

"Very few Americans are aware of the success that our country has had through Medicaid and CHIP in reducing the number of uninsured children," Alker said, "and I think that's an important 'good news' story that needs to get out."

However, in Arizona, the perception that more children are uninsured is true.

Enrollment in the Children's Health Insurance Program, also known as KidsCare, was frozen by the state four years ago. Since then, CHIP enrollment has dropped from 47,000 to less than 7,000 and will dwindle to zero unless lawmakers act.

Joe Fu, director of health policy for the Children's Action Alliance, said the main reason Arizona is bucking the national trend of covering more kids is the CHIP enrollment freeze.

"I would say that that is the major cause," he said, "because, if you look at other states with CHIP programs, their participation rates have been much better than Arizona."

The Georgetown Center report also credits outreach efforts in many states for increasing enrollment of children in Medicaid and CHIP programs. However, Fu said, it isn't the case in Arizona.

"They do offer some assistance if you go into certain state offices to actually apply in person, but there are no efforts by the state to conduct outreach and enrollment," he said. "Most of that is being picked up by community organizations."

Arizona is expanding Medicaid coverage to some 300,000 low-income residents in January. Fu said the Medicaid expansion is helping, and they are seeing larger numbers of enrollments over the past few months. But without CHIP, Fu said, it won't be enough to reverse the decline in coverage for kids.

"If we expand Medicaid but get rid of CHIP, or have CHIP be frozen as it is right now," he said, "the thought is that Arizona may continue to lose coverage for children despite the Medicaid expansion."

The federal government matches state dollars spent on CHIP by nearly three to one. Currently, more than 100,000 children are on Arizona's KidsCare waiting list.

The report and poll are online at ccf.georgetown.edu.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ