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Despite Tough Times, More Ohio Children Have Health Care

PHOTO: A new national poll finds Ohio has reduced its number of uninsured children by more than 21,000 in just two years, but more than 140,000 are still without coverage. Photo credit: Judy Schmidt, CDC.
PHOTO: A new national poll finds Ohio has reduced its number of uninsured children by more than 21,000 in just two years, but more than 140,000 are still without coverage. Photo credit: Judy Schmidt, CDC.
November 20, 2013

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Public perception is a bit off when it comes to how well Ohio is doing in improving children's health coverage.

A poll released today from the Georgetown Center for Children and Families shows most people think more children are uninsured and living in poverty. While the poverty rates are high, said executive director Joan Alker, the number of kids without insurance actually has decreased in the past five years - largely because states such as Ohio are working to get them enrolled in programs such as Medicaid and CHIP.

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

Alker said both programs have been available during tough economic times to cover children in families who have lost their health coverage and can't afford to buy it on their own. Ohio saw an almost 1-percentage point drop in its rate of uninsured children between 2010 and 2012.

Sandy Oxley, chief executive of Voices for Ohio's Children, said the state has come a long way in the past several years to streamline Medicaid enrollment, and it's been a joint effort of family advocates, stakeholders, and state leaders.

"We are modernizing the Medicaid eligibility system and simplifying that system," she said, "so we can get kids enrolled - and most importantly, keep them enrolled, so they can get the health services that they need and ultimately become productive members of society."

With more than 140,000 children in Ohio still without health insurance, Oxley said more work is needed. She said she thinks the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid expansion will provide opportunities to reach out to many more.

One surprise in their findings, Alker said, was that nationally, rural children are uninsured at a higher rate, of almost 8 percent, compared with the overall rate of slightly more than 7 percent.

"I think that speaks to the need for very targeted outreach and enrollment strategies that meet the needs of families in rural areas," she said. "They may not be aware of their children's eligibility, and we need to make sure that it's easy for them to enroll in that coverage."

Most uninsured children already are eligible for Medicaid or CHIP but are not enrolled, she said, and building awareness is critical in changing that.

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

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH