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Childhood insurance coverage hitting nationwide highs

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has provided millions of American adults with high-quality healthcare coverage. But the nation’s youngest have benefited from the law, as well. Research shows that since the Jan. 1, 2014, establishment of Obamacare, 25 states have seen significant increases in children’s coverage rates. Among the benefits of this coverage increase has been improved access to care and better health outcomes for children.

However, providing health insurance may also instill be long-term educational and financial benefits. And while the ACA has been instrumental in these increases, the study’s authors stress that nationwide Medicaid expansion is also necessary.

Laying out the “welcome mat”

Today, research shows that 95 percent of all U.S. children (ages 19 and younger) have access to comprehensive and affordable health coverage. In 2012 alone, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) provided 57 percent of the nation’s children (more than 44 million) with health coverage. Medicaid, the social program for low-income families and individuals, is actually the leading childhood insurer, providing coverage to more than 36 million. CHIP, which is specifically established for children’ health needs, handles 8 million policies. CHIP is paid for by individual states, whether through Medicaid, a separate program or a combination.

But the ACA has also played a large part in meeting the needs of children’s coverage. The healthcare law allows some children previously enrolled in CHIP eligible for Medicaid, which offers more comprehensive benefits. The ACA also ensures that children can remain on their parent’s insurance policies until the age of 26. A Georgetown University study found that these coverage increases are due to the “welcome mat” effect. With this, parents apply for ACA-compliant plans, but learn their children already qualify for Medicaid coverage.

“We know from experience in other states that when you cover parents, even though the kids might already have been eligible for coverage, they too will be more likely to be enrolled,” stated Joan Alker, the study’s co-author. The study used North Carolina’s coverage rates as an example. Currently, the state’s childhood coverage is almost 95 percent, a record high. In 2013, before the ACA, 6.3 percent of North Carolina’s children were uninsured. But in 2014, this fell to 5.2 percent; this represents an increase of 25,000 children.

Medicaid could further boost coverage

Healthcare experts believe that childhood coverage rates would increase even more with the nationwide expansion of Medicaid. “We did see that states that took the Medicaid option and accepted the federal funds saw nearly double the rate of decline in uninsured children as compared to states that did not accept the Medicaid option,” said Alker.

“We know that in North Carolina about half of the uninsured population is actually eligible for a public health insurance program like Medicaid or Health Choice,” stated Rob Thompson of NC Child, a program ensuring the state’s children’s health and wellness. There are still 120,000 uninsured children in North Carolina.

The findings offer further proof that insuring children, such as with Medicaid, can benefit them , as well as their neighbors and government. “We know that health coverage for children leads to improved access to care, better health outcomes, and even stronger educational achievement in the long-run: higher high school graduation rates, better economic mobility and ultimately a good return on government investment as these kids are more likely to become taxpayers.”