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Gap Widens in Health Coverage for Illinois' Latino Kids

Illinois was the first state to expand Medicaid health-care coverage to undocumented children. (AdobeStock)
Illinois was the first state to expand Medicaid health-care coverage to undocumented children. (AdobeStock)
March 19, 2020

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- A strong health care infrastructure is crucial during times like these, but not all children in Illinois have equal access to health care coverage.

A new report by UnidosUS and the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families shows the uninsured rate for Latino children rose in 2018 for the first time in a decade, and Latino children are nearly twice as likely to be uninsured than their peers.

Lead Author Kelly Whitener says the increase could be connected to changes in immigration policy.

"Researchers at the Urban Institute have found that Latino communities and immigrant communities are fearful of getting health coverage or participating in government programs because they think there may be immigration consequences, for themselves or their family members," she states.

Illinois' rate for uninsured Latino children is 4.6%, which is lower than the national rate of 8.1%.

The report also points to efforts by the Trump administration to undermine Medicaid, the Children's Health Insurance Program and the Affordable Care Act for the rise in Latino children without health care coverage.

Illinois was the first state to provide Medicaid to undocumented children, and Andrea Kovach, health care justice attorney at the Shriver Center on Poverty Law, says House Bill 4891 presents a similar opportunity. It would extend Medicaid to low-income Illinoisans age 19 and older regardless of immigration status.

"And research has shown that when parents have health insurance coverage that's affordable and comprehensive, they're much, much more likely to make sure that their children get enrolled in coverage and stay in that coverage," Kovach points out.

Whitener contends the nation needs to focus once again on measures to expand health insurance access, as it did between 2008 and 2016.

"It's time to return to those policy goals, a time to make sure that coverage is available and affordable -- that the process to enroll is streamlined, that information is clear," she stresses. "If we return to those goals, we can actually get back on track in getting more children covered."

Whitner adds the COVID-19 pandemic underscores the importance of health coverage in protecting public health, and notes uninsured rates will likely increase in an economic downturn.

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.
Mary Schuermann Kuhlman, Public News Service - IL