A multi-year decrease in the number of children without health insurance has begun to slow, a report found, raising questions as to what role the results of Tuesday's midterm elections may play in future efforts to expand coverage.
The children's uninsured rate has dropped significantly on an annual basis since the creation of the Children's Health Insurance Program in 1997. The program covers children in families earning up to 200% of poverty.
The uninsured rate for kids in 1997 was 14%. The study found that recently the uninsured rate saw only a slight decline, going from 7.2% in 2012 to 7.1% in 2013.
Also, fewer states were found to have made improvements toward reducing their rates of uninsured children from 2011 to 2013, according to the report released Thursday by the Center for Children and Families at Georgetown University (PDF).
As many as 36 states made no significant progress reducing their uninsured rates between 2011 and 2013, the report found. Three states—Connecticut, Illinois and North Dakota—experienced increases.
“We have made amazing progress over the last couple of decades and we are at a historic low,” said report author Joan Alker, executive director of the Center for Children and Families. “But having said that, we do see coverage rates for seniors through Medicare at around 99%, so there's no reason why we can't do better for kids.”
Further progress could be made by reducing the number of uninsured children in Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, New York and Texas, where half of the country's uninsured kids reside, as well as lowering the rate in state such as Nevada, which had the highest uninsured children rate in the nation at 15%, Alker said.
“We're not going to make progress reducing the overall number until we get these states to bring their numbers down,” Alker said.
About 1.7 million children in the U.S. gained health coverage between 2008 and 2013 in large part through public programs such as Medicaid and CHIP, which covers more than one-third of children.
But those gains could be lost by next year when funding for CHIP is set to expire in September, requiring a vote by Congress to extend financing for the program. By that time, the House and the Senate will be led by Republican lawmakers, who won full control.
Alker said much will depend on the outcome of the vote. Despite the millions who have gained coverage through provisions included in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, nearly 3 million children could lose health coverage if CHIP funding is not extended, according to estimates.
Despite the uncertainty, Alker said she remained guardedly optimistic that the new Congress can work with President Barack Obama to extend funding for the $13 billion-a-year program.
“This has always been a bipartisan program with a lot of support,” Alker said. “It's certainly not going to be an easy lift. We can all think of reasons why it will be difficult for Congress and the president to come together, but I hope in the best interest of children they will and the program is refunded.”
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