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Oregon Making Strides Covering Kids, But More Needs to be Done

GRAPHIC: Oregon is a bright spot in a new national report on what states are doing to cover more children with health insurance. But nationally, the progress has slowed. Graphic courtesy of Georgetown Center for Children and Families.
GRAPHIC: Oregon is a bright spot in a new national report on what states are doing to cover more children with health insurance. But nationally, the progress has slowed. Graphic courtesy of Georgetown Center for Children and Families.
November 6, 2014

PORTLAND, Ore. - When it comes to the number of children covered by health insurance, Oregon gets good marks in a national report from the Georgetown Center for Children and Families.

Nationally, however, the report cites the number of uninsured children at more than five million - and says each state could be doing more to reach them. Oregon has slightly more than 50,000 uninsured children.

The report indicates two of the most vulnerable groups nationally are Hispanic children, and kids in families living just above the poverty line. Joan Alker, executive director of the Georgetown Center for Children and Families, says the future of these children is, in part, in the unpredictable hands of Congress.

"Children in working families and living on the brink of poverty have the highest rate of 'uninsurance,'" says Alker. "Those children are really targeted by the Children's Health Insurance Program, and Congress has an important decision to make next year as to whether or not to extend funding for the CHIP program."

Alker says she is "cautiously optimistic" following Tuesday's election about the reauthorization of the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and is expecting challenges. She notes a failure to reauthorize CHIP funding would swell the nation's number of uninsured children to seven million.

According to Alker, the most recent priority for states has been to cover adults under the Affordable Care Act, which may have led to the stalled rate of newly-covered children.

While more than seven percent of U.S. kids are uninsured, Oregon has bucked the trend, reducing its rate of uninsured children by 1.5 percent in the last two years. Alker says state efforts, like the the Oregon Healthy Kids program, are paying off.

"We know from a lot of research that children who have coverage - be it private or public coverage - do better in school," says Alker. "They have better access to primary and preventive health-care services, and their families are protected from bankruptcy that can arise from unpaid medical bills."

Oregon's uninsured rate for children is now 5.8 percent, but the report says there's still work to be done to catch up with the top five states for covering kids, all of which have uninsured rates below four percent.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR