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AZ Could See Rebound in Uninsured Kids as Federal Dollars Stop Flowing

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Monday, December 12, 2022   

Arizona saw 15,000 more kids get health insurance between 2019 and 2021, thanks to federal dollars which kept them and their families insured during the COVID-19 public health emergency.

In a report from the Georgetown University Center for Family and Children, Arizona still sits more than three percentage points above the national average for the number of kids who are uninsured.

Zaida Dedolph Piecoro, director of health policy for the Children's Action Alliance in Arizona, said racial and ethnic disparities play a role in access to coverage. She pointed out American Indians and Alaska Natives did see important gains, but are not where they should be in terms of health coverage.

Piecoro pointed out Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program often help offset the structural issues produced by lack of funding in the Indian Health Services system.

"Medicaid and CHIP can in particular be a really important stopgap," Piecoro explained. "Especially in Arizona where we see that American Indian and Alaskan Native children are more likely to qualify for one of those types of coverage."

Piecoro realizes the solution is not to enroll everyone in Medicaid, but rather for the federal government to fulfill its commitments to tribal nations, one of which is helping provide adequate health care to tribal members. She added Medicaid and CHIP are only part of the puzzle.

Piecoro noted the pandemic helped to usher in changes to alleviate some of the family burdens contributing to children being uninsured. One of the changes is the "continuous coverage requirement," which meant people could not be dropped from the insurance rolls during the pandemic. But when the public health emergency expires in April of next year, Piecoro expects health care may be one of the things more families go without.

"When it comes to health insurance, it oftentimes kind of falls on the back burner because for many households it is an important way to offset financial risk," Piecoro acknowledged. "But when you're in a situation where every penny counts, you're not thinking about financial risk."

When children experience a lapse in health coverage, Piecoro emphasized it can have immediate effects, but also far-reaching ones. She stressed it is important to know help is out there for enrollment and re-enrollment in programs, and parents should make sure their contact information is up-to-date with the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, Arizona's public health insurance system.


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