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Report: Sharp Decline in Insured WV Children

A new report finds that the majority of children without health insurance in the United States live in the South. (Adobe stock)
A new report finds that the majority of children without health insurance in the United States live in the South. (Adobe stock)
October 31, 2019

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – West Virginia ranked fourth best in the nation in 2016 for providing health care insurance to its children.

But in 2018, that ranking dropped to 14th, according to a new report from the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families.

Jessie Ice, executive director of the group West Virginians for Affordable Health Care, blames the plunge on the state's opioid crisis, which she says has led to unstable families going on and off insurance as they deal with addiction problems.

"Sometimes children aren't being re-enrolled when they have to, or maybe they're moving around to different family members, but some kids seem to get lost in the system and they're not necessarily getting enrolled when they need to be," she points out.

About 4,000 more children in the state are uninsured compared to two years ago, the report finds, even though West Virginia leaders adopted Medicaid expansion in 2014.

Ice maintains state officials can do more to sign up more children for health insurance. She says they can publicize the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid expansion better, and avoid possible restrictions.

"We want our state legislators to not impede on anything that might threaten Medicaid or the ACA,” she stresses. “For example, signing onto lawsuits, imposing work requirements. Those sorts of things that we believe would really limit access."

Joan Alker, executive director of the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families, points out that across the nation, cycling in and out of health coverage is a problem at any time in a person's life, but it's especially harmful for children.

"Any short period of un-insurance exposes that parent to medical debt – if a kid falls down on the playground, breaks an arm, happens all the time,” she points out. “So, we really need these kids to have continuous health coverage."

The number of uninsured children in the United States increased by more than 400,000 between 2016 and 2018, the report finds, bringing the total to over 4 million uninsured children in the nation.

Disclosure: Georgetown University Center for Children & Families contributes to our fund for reporting on Children's Issues, Health Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Diane Bernard, Public News Service - WV