Number of uninsured Utah children increased by 39% between 2016 and 2019

An estimated 82,000 Utah children were uninsured last year, which constitutes a 39 percent spike since 2016, according to a new Georgetown University Center for Children and Families report. At the 39 percent, Utah had the third largest increase in its child uninsured rate nationwide, the report found. The state’s rate of uninsured children was 8.3 percent in 2019, compared to a national rate of 5.7 percent.

 

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While these numbers reveal that Utah has been one of the hardest hit states in terms of coverage loss, they reflect a national trend that saw 726,000 more children lose health coverage across the country. Since 2016, a great deal of coverage gain that resulted from the Affordable Care Act for children has been reversed.

For many years, the United States was on a positive trajectory in reducing the number and rate of uninsured children; in 2016, the nation attained a historic low of 3.6 million uninsured children,” reads the report. “This progress occurred as a result of expansions of public coverage—primarily Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)—and was accelerated by the implementation of the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) major coverage expansions in 2014. As employer-sponsored insurance became increasingly unaffordable for dependents, public coverage ameliorated the impacts of private coverage losses for children. However, the number of uninsured children began to increase in 2017 as Medicaid enrollment began to decline.”

The report found that coverage losses were widespread across income, age, and race/ethnicity, but were largest among White and Latinx children. Geographically, coverages losses have been concentrated in states in South and West.

The number of uninsured children increased every year from 2016-2019. Despite a strong economy, the largest increase was observed between 2018 and 2019 when the number of children without coverage rose by 320,000. This number of represents the largest annual jump in uninsured coverage seen in over a decade.

“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 Georgetown University Center for Children and Families Executive Director Joan Alker. “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.”

The data included in the report was collected prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, whic means the number of uninsured children is likely considerably higher in 2020 due to increased unemployment and the resultant loss of employer-sponsored insurance.

Prior to the pandemic, the climbing rate of uninsured children is attributable to losses of public coverage – primarily Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) – according to the report.

“We are seeing a growing number of Utah’s children going without health coverage,” said Jessie Mandle, Senior Policy Analyst for Voices for Utah Children. “This damaging trend will have long-term consequences for children and families across Utah because without health coverage, children cannot access the care they need to grow and thrive.”

Access to health care can impact children’s physical and emotional health, growth, and development in ways that extend far into adulthood.

“This data proves that it’s more important than ever to eliminate barriers for all children and families in Utah to access quality, affordable health coverage in Utah. We must reduce red tape in our enrollment and renewal process, conduct robust outreach and education efforts so that families know about their coverage options, and ensure that children are eligible for Medicaid and CHIP regardless of citizenship status,” Mandle said.