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The Journal Gazette

Coverage for kids on the rise

Largest gains among minorities

The percentage of Indiana children without health insurance coverage decreased to 8 percent from 10 percent in the four-year period ending with 2012, according to results of a study being released today.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation report used Census Bureau data from the annual American Communities Survey to track trends in health insurance by state. The Princeton, N.J., nonprofit strives to build a culture of health without engaging in partisan politics.

The study found that the percentage of children covered by public insurance plans has increased nationally and in every state, while the percentage of those covered by private insurance has decreased. Public insurance includes Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Minority children experienced the largest gains in coverage, decreasing the percentage of uninsured to 7 percent in 2012 from 10 percent in 2008, according to a report summary. Minority data for individual states weren’t provided.

“It was encouraging to us to see that children who are historically (more likely to be) uninsured are making the biggest gains. It’s a trend we hope to see continue,” said Julie Sonier, deputy director at the State Health Access Data Assistance Center, part of the University of Minnesota.

Nevada reported the highest percentage of children without health insurance in 2012 at 17 percent. Massachusetts saw the lowest percentage, with slightly more than 1 percent.

The national numbers mirror Indiana’s results, with 8 percent uninsured in 2012 and 10 percent in 2008. For purposes of the study, children include anyone from birth through age 18.

The statistics do not include direct effects of the Affordable Care Act, also called Obamacare, but debate surrounding the legislation might have increased public awareness of the need for coverage, Sonier said.

Sonier, who worked on the study, said state lawmakers of all political stripes tend to agree on the need to get children covered by health insurance.

“Kids who have coverage are more likely to get health care in a timely way when they need it,” she said, adding that early treatment can prevent avoidable complications.

Dr. Deborah McMahan, Allen County’s health commissioner, on Wednesday applauded the decrease in Indiana children without health insurance.

“All children should have access to healthcare services – not just to address diseases such as asthma or obesity, but also so that children can benefit from well child checks,” she said in a statement.

“These checkups provide an opportunity to ensure developmental milestones are being reached, vaccinations are provided and anticipatory guidance is offered to both parents and children,” McMahan said.

“While our numbers have improved, we need to continue to strive to achieve 100 percent health insurance coverage for children,” she added.

Sonier, the researcher, isn’t sure that’s possible.

Families often experience a period of flux in coverage when parents change or lose jobs, she said. Also, some families choose to forgo health insurance for religious reasons.

“I think there’s still some room for improvement,” Sonier said. “I’m not sure you could ever get to zero.”

Each state’s economic situation also affects its uninsured rate, she said.

Tracking insurance rates by state can help officials evaluate programs designed to make parents aware of Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program and enroll children for coverage, Sonier said.

The data included in this report, she said, will provide a baseline for officials to measure effects of the Affordable Care Act on future health insurance coverage rates.

Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, said tremendous progress has been made in getting children insured.

“More American children now have stable, affordable health coverage,” she said in a statement. “And that means they can get the care they need to learn and grow.”

sslater@jg.net

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