Some new research highlights a rare health care success story for Oklahoma. A new report from the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute Center for Children and Families found that the United States’ child uninsured rate hit an all-time low of 6 percent in 2014. Oklahoma saw one of the largest decreases in uninsured children, from 95,042 in 2013 to 82,251 in 2014 – a decline of 13.5 percent.
This is great news for many reasons. Having affordable health insurance is shown to improve child health. Children with health coverage have access to the care they need in order to keep growing and learning in school. When children who are covered do get sick, their families can take them to the doctor without fear of catastrophic health costs, and simple ailments can be managed before they can develop into more serious illnesses.
Successes in reducing the number of uninsured children in Oklahoma can be attributed to Medicaid, the Oklahoma Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), and major provisions of the Affordable Care Act that swung into effect in early 2014. Oklahoma-specific policies have helped: the Health Care Authority’s automatic newborn enrollment system and No Wrong Door efforts have strengthened insurance access for children.
[pullquote]Health coverage for parents appears to be a strong driver for health coverage for children: when uninsured parents learn about and enroll in health insurance, they sign up their children, too.[/pullquote]That said, an estimated 82,251 children are still uninsured in Oklahoma. Nationwide, more than 2 in 3 uninsured children are eligible for but not enrolled in some form of health insurance.
An estimated 44 percent of the remaining uninsured in Oklahoma, including both adults and children, are eligible for either Medicaid or subsidized coverage on Healthcare.gov. More active efforts aimed at reaching this population could extend health coverage access for Oklahoma children and families.
The report also found that Medicaid expansion had a significant impact on lowering states’ uninsured rates. States that expanded Medicaid coverage to more uninsured adults saw declines in their child uninsured rate nearly twice the size of states that haven’t expanded coverage. Of the ten states with the largest declines in percentage of uninsured children in the last year, eight had expanded Medicaid. Oklahoma ranked 14th. While the state’s decrease in the child uninsured rate is certainly encouraging, it could clearly be better.
Unfortunately, Oklahoma has steadfastly refused to extend coverage to the low-income uninsured, despite the fact that 1 in 6 uninsured Oklahomans would be eligible for such coverage. Expanding the program would also save the state money and create thousands of well-paying jobs.
The declining child uninsured rate is wonderful news for Oklahoma that promises a future of better health and financial security for thousands of families. By continuing to advocate for health insurance enrollment for both children and their eligible parents, Oklahoma can continue to expand access to care for thousands.