States Rewarded for Adding Kids to Public Insurance Rolls

Twenty-three states will share $296.5 million in federal funds for encouraging low-income families to enroll children in state-run public healthcare programs.  The bonuses reward states that streamlined eligibility for Medicaid, the federal-state health program and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).  The goal is to assure coverage for children younger than 19 from households with annual incomes of less than $45,000 for a family of four, though some states are more generous.  Despite 2011’s shaky economy, the number of uninsured children fell to 5.9 million in 2010 from 6.9 million the previous year, according to a study by the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute.  Children still leave the program rolls because parents neglect to renew eligibility, increasing the likelihood of missed vaccinations and dental checkups, said Tricia Brooks, a senior fellow at the Georgetown institute.

“Families may avoid routine preventive care with the hope they’ll have more money next month or delay seeking care until they know they really have to bring the children in,” Brooks said.  “At that point, the emergency room is a likely choice.”

Besides the 1.2 million newly insured children, three million who previously had private insurance transferred to CHIP or Medicaid during that time frame, said Sherry Glied, assistant secretary for planning and evaluation at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).  Because of that, children have been protected from 10 years of erosion of health insurance among Americans that resulted as employers dropped coverage, workers with insurance were laid off because of the recession, and people whose only alternative was to buy insurance on their own could not afford to do so.  Since CHIP was first established in 1997, the share of adults ages 26 to 64 with a health plan dipped from 83 percent to 80 percent. By contrast, in the same period, the share of children with insurance grew from 86 percent to 93 percent.  “It’s very encouraging, because it shows that even in an economic downturn, CHIP really made a difference,” Glied said.

The 23 states that are eligible to receive performance bonuses are: Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.

To earn their bonuses, states used electronic databases rather than paperwork submissions from families to verify incomes or preemptively enrolling kids who appear to be eligible.  Additionally, states may guarantee one year of eligibility rather than requiring periodic renewals.  Georgia and South Carolina use information from their nutrition assistance programs to hasten eligibility determinations, said Marilyn Tavenner, acting administrator of the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.  In 2010, 15 states claimed bonuses totaling approximately $206 million.  Alabama, which received $55 million after adding 133,000 children to its public insurance programs, led the pack.

In Connecticut, for example, an estimated 49,000 Connecticut children under 18 have no health insurance, said Mary Alice Lee, senior policy fellow with Connecticut Voices for Children.  The state provides affordable insurance for children under the Husky Health program. According to Lee, considering that the state’s economic downturn and the 2010 nine percent unemployment rate, the fact that the percentage of uninsured children held steady means that the Husky program is working.  “The number of uninsured children in Connecticut is really relatively low compared to other states,” Lee said.  On a national basis, 9.8 percent of children under 18 were uninsured in 2010.  “The Husky program is doing exactly what it’s supposed to do, that is, provide affordable coverage for children during times of economic stress.”

No parent in America should have to think twice about taking their child to a doctor’s appointment or filling a prescription for their child because the cost is too high,” Tavenner said. “And no child should have to miss school or activities because they’re not getting the care they need to stay healthy.”  States have wide latitude regarding how they spend the funds, but the intent is that they will be used to help defray the shared Medicaid costs that the states incur by enrolling more children.

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