An estimated 142,000 North Carolina children were uninsured last year, a number that has increased about 23% since 2016, according to a new report released by the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families. North Carolina is now one of the bottom ten states in terms of covering children.
This downward trend comes after decades of successfully reducing the child uninsured rate in North Carolina. Without health coverage, children cannot access the care they need to grow and thrive. They often miss developmental screenings, critical childhood vaccinations, and forego needed care. Research shows children with health coverage are more likely to graduate from high school, attend college and grow up to be healthier and more productive adults.
Even before the pandemic and associated economic downturn began, about 27,000 more North Carolina children were uninsured in 2019 than in 2016. Our state’s experience is part of a national trend that left an estimated 726,000 more children without health coverage. After decades of hard work and achieving an historic low number of uninsured children after the passing of the Affordable Care Act, we now see all of those gains have been wiped out. What’s worse, the number of children losing coverage accelerated from 2018 to 2019 during a time when unemployment was very low. The situation is likely worse today.
Kids can’t wait for health care, there’s too much at stake
Now, as parents have lost their jobs and health insurance in 2020, the downward trend in insurance coverage has deteriorated for children. Kids and their families need to have reliable health coverage, preventive health care, and access to medical providers more than ever. Yet, because most people in the US still get their health coverage as a job benefit, the economic downturn and COVID-19 has meant a new disruption in coverage. An estimated 723,000 North Carolinians have lost their jobs, or were dependent on someone who experienced job loss, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Preschool-aged and Latino children have had greater losses in health coverage
Data also show a surge of uninsurance among the state’s preschool-aged children, with nearly 9,000 more children under age 6 becoming uninsured during the three-year period, a nearly 36% increase for this age group. This is particularly concerning given that young children need consistent, high-quality medical screenings during early years of life to ensure that they are growing and developing appropriately.
Growing anti-immigrant rhetoric and policy, such as the public charge regulation, have deterred many immigrant families from enrolling their eligible children in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. The state’s uninsured rate for Latino children (13.3%) is more than double the rate for all children in North Carolina (5.8%).
Preventing further health insurance loss
These data underscore that it’s more important than ever for our leaders to remove the barriers that keep parents and children from access to affordable health care. On top of this troubling trend, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear a case that marks a great threat to the Affordable Care Act the week after the general election in November. If overturned, at least 20 million Americans could lose health coverage right away, including families who have Medicaid as a result of the law’s expansion.
When parents and caregivers have health insurance, children are more likely to be covered as well. Our leaders should be taking steps like expanding Medicaid, combining the state’s Health Choice and Medicaid programs to cut red tape, and doing better outreach to families with children who may be eligible for existing programs. Our kids’ health can’t wait.