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More U.S. Kids Have Insurance, but Utah Lags

PHOTO: Despite some gains in recent years, Utah has more children without health insurance than the national average. Photo courtesy Georgetown University.
PHOTO: Despite some gains in recent years, Utah has more children without health insurance than the national average. Photo courtesy Georgetown University.
November 20, 2013

SALT LAKE CITY - A new report confirms what advocates for children in Utah have been saying for a while now: Expanding Medicaid would help reduce the state's high rate of uninsured children.

According to the study from the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families, about 10 percent of Utah kids don't have health coverage, compared with a national rate of slightly more than 7 percent.

Most states have taken steps to reach out to low-income families through programs such as Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program, the report said. However, Lincoln Nehring, senior health policy analyst for Voices for Utah Children, said Utah lawmakers seem reluctant to spend the money.

"Utah's a very Republican state," he said. "State policy leaders are very skeptical of anything done by a Democratic federal government or a Democratic president."

Expanding Medicaid would qualify more adults for health coverage, and Nehring said they likely would enroll their kids as well. Utah has about 90,000 children without health insurance, although the report found that 5,000 more children have been enrolled since 2010.

Nehring said Gov. Gary Herbert commissioned a study that shows expanding Medicaid would help reduce the billions of dollars that hospitals lose treating uninsured patients.

"That study estimated that 3,000 new jobs would be created in Utah as a direct result of the expansion," Nehring said.

A poll released with the Georgetown study found that a majority of Americans believe fewer children have health coverage now than in years past - when just the opposite is true. Partly as a result of CHIP and Medicaid, more than 1.6 million more children nationwide are covered now than in 2008.

The uninsured rate is a little higher among rural children, said Joan Alker, executive director of the Georgetown Center, adding that it's highest among Latino children - at nearly 35 percent in Utah. She said language barriers might be partly to blame, but it's also an outreach problem.

"We may be seeing children who are in mixed-status families, where the children are citizens but their parents may be immigrants," she said. "We may have families, if there are immigrant parents, who are very reluctant to engage with the government - and, indeed, fearful to engage with the government."

The report said Massachusetts has the nation's highest rate of insured children, while Nevada has the lowest.

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

Troy Wilde, Public News Service - UT