Report: Children’s health coverage continues to fall nationwide

    About to receive an oral vaccine
    Two-month-old Karina, the child of uninsured parents, receives drops of children's Tylenol after getting a vaccination at a low-cost clinic run by the Rocky Mountain Youth Clinics on July 28, 2009 in Aurora, Colorado. | John Moore/Getty Images

    The number of children in the U.S. without health insurance has risen throughout the Trump administration and jumped by 320,000 in 2019, the largest increase in more than a decade, according to a new report issued Friday.

    Wisconsin children fared better, according to data collected for the report, which was produced by the Center for Children and Families at the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute — but there were still 51,000 uninsured children in the state in 2019, about the same as the previous year.

    “For decades, children’s health coverage had been a national success story that we could point to with pride, but the data shows the trend is now going in the wrong direction,” said Joan Alker, executive director of the center and coauthor of the report. “What’s worse, the number of children losing coverage accelerated from 2018 to 2019 during a time when unemployment was very low.”

    From 2008, when there were 7.6 million children without health insurance in the U.S., the number dropped to a historic low in 2016: 3.6 million, or 4.7% of children under 19. In every year since, it has increased again. In 2019, 5.7% of children — about 4.4 million — lacked health coverage.

    The report blames the rise in uninsured kids on cuts in programs that help people learn about and enroll in coverage, including Medicaid, through the Affordable Care Act. It also cites “red tape barriers that make it harder for families to enroll or stay enrolled” in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

    Another likely factor, according to the report, is a Trump administration rule that makes it possible to deny immigrants permission to work in the U.S. if they are viewed as more likely to use public benefits. The report says that so-called public charge regulation “and other actions leading to a hostile climate for immigrant families” has caused a “chilling effect” that keeps families that include immigrants as well as citizens from enrolling eligible children in CHIP and Medicaid.

    The report’s data comes from the U.S. Census Bureau and predates the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to skyrocketing layoffs and the loss of health insurance for many families; the extent of those losses isn’t yet known.

    Wisconsin, where 3.8% of children are uninsured has been ahead of the national average in coverage, ranking 17 among the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

    But with thousands of children who still don’t have coverage, the state can do more, according to William Parke-Sutherland, who specializes in health policy for Kids Forward, a Wisconsin research and advocacy organization focusing on child and family policy.

    “This data proves that it’s more important than ever to fully expand Medicaid in Wisconsin and eliminate barriers for children and families to access quality, affordable health care,” said Parke-Sutherland. “We know that when parents are insured, their children are more likely to have health coverage so they can access the care they need to grow and thrive.”

    Erik Gunn
    Senior Reporter Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, along with related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary. An East Coast native, he previously covered labor for The Milwaukee Journal after reporting for newspapers in upstate New York and northern Illinois. He's a graduate of Beloit College (English Comp.) and the Columbia School of Journalism. Off hours he is the Examiner's resident Springsteen and Jackson Browne fanboy and model railroad nerd.