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Rate of Uninsured Children Stable in CA, Worsening Nationwide

Data show that uninsurance is highest in California among children in the Hispanic and Pacific Islander communities. (National Association of Community Health Care)
Data show that uninsurance is highest in California among children in the Hispanic and Pacific Islander communities. (National Association of Community Health Care)
November 29, 2018

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – New data out Thursday shows that only 3 percent of California children are uninsured – the same as last year. But advocates say they worry that federal policies could reverse the gains.

Researchers with the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families found that nationally, almost a decade of progress has begun to slip with 5 percent of children now uninsured.

Mike Odeh, director of public policy for the advocacy group Children Now, says California's health-care policies, such as the decision to allow undocumented children into Medi-Cal, have an outsize impact.

"Because of the size of California, we have 300,000 uninsured kids, and that's about 8 percent of the nation's total uninsured kids,” he points out. “So, we can really make a difference in California. You know, we need to think about health coverage affordability for families and what that means for the family budget."

Enrollment in a number of public assistance programs is already dropping – because the Trump administration has proposed changes to the public charge rules that make the use of certain programs count against legal immigrants when they apply for citizenship.

The administration says migrants must be able to support themselves financially.

Aracely Navarro, manager of policy and government relations at The Children's Partnership, says her research predicts that if the changes to public charge go through, the uninsured rate for children in California would jump between 2 and 5 percentage points as mixed-status families with children who are U.S. citizens are scared into dropping needed benefits.

"Our data is showing there is significant chilling effect factors, including public charge, that are going to play a role in whether people remain uninsured and/or utilize their coverage," she points out.

The deadline for public comments on the proposal on the website regulations.gov is Dec. 10.

Joan Alker, co-author of the Georgetown report, says the Trump administration's attempts to repeal and undermine the Affordable Care Act, the caps on Medicaid, and the delay in funding the Children's Health Insurance Program have all worked to thwart progress.

"Even though we have an improving economy and a low unemployment rate, the fact that our nation is going backwards on kids' health coverage is very troubling,” she states. “And the fact that all 50 states failed to make progress, even those with the best of intentions, means they really couldn't withstand these strong, national currents to protect their kids from losing coverage."

The administration cut the open enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act in half. It remains open until Dec. 15.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - CA