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PA Kids' Uninsured Rate Stagnant, Bucking Nat'l. Trend

Immigrant children in Pennsylvania were more likely to be uninsured than other groups in the state in 2017, likely due to parents' fear of interacting with the government. (skeeze/Pixabay)
Immigrant children in Pennsylvania were more likely to be uninsured than other groups in the state in 2017, likely due to parents' fear of interacting with the government. (skeeze/Pixabay)
November 29, 2018

PHILADELPHIA – Across the country, the number of children without health insurance rose in 2017 for the first time in eight years, according to a new report from the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families.

The research found no state made progress to get more children insured between 2016 and 2017 – and at least Pennsylvania didn't backslide.

Report co-author Joan Alker, executive director of the center, explains that the Children's Health Insurance Program or CHIP expired last year, and when Congress stalled on extending it, the loss of momentum had a big impact.

"Congress let funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program expire Sept. 30 of that year, and it took them many months to actually get the CHIP program extended,” she points out. “And it created what we would call an 'unwelcome mat' effect."

Alker adds that Congress repeatedly trying to cut Medicaid, and the Trump administration reducing support for the Affordable Care Act, led to fewer adults being insured – and when adults go without health coverage, their children often do, as well.

Colleen McCauley, health policy director at the group Public Citizens for Children and Youth, says the way Pennsylvania runs its CHIP program may be why its numbers didn't drop from 2016 to 2017.

"Pennsylvania is a standout state in that no family makes too much money to qualify for CHIP," she explains.

McCauley says most of the 125,000 children who are uninsured in the Keystone State are eligible for coverage.

The report recommends states do more outreach and make their enrollment and renewal processes easier.

However, McCauley points out that about 20 percent of uninsured Pennsylvania children are undocumented immigrants. She says the state also could have better policies for them.

"We estimate that there's a smaller share – 24,000 kids in Pennsylvania – who are uninsured and ineligible, and they're children who are unauthorized immigrants,” she states. “There are six states already, though, that cover every child, and they cover children who are unauthorized immigrants."

McCauley recommends adopting immigrant friendly policies like New York, and expanding coverage to undocumented children.

Laura Rosbrow-Telem, Public News Service - PA