Success story: Oklahoma significantly improves uninsured rate for Hispanic children

Photo by Danbury Library  / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Photo by Danbury Library / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Amanda Rightler is a senior at the University of Tulsa studying chemistry and economics. In addition to interning at OK Policy, she participates in undergraduate chemistry research and enjoys volunteering in the community. 

Recent data gives encouraging news on health insurance coverage of Oklahoma’s Hispanic children in the first year of full implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). A new report from the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute Center for Children and Families shows that Oklahoma is one of just 11 states to see a significant decline in both the number and percentage of uninsured Hispanic children. Oklahoma ranked 7th among these states for greatest percentage change, ahead of Arizona, Florida, Texas, and New York, but behind Nevada, Georgia, Colorado, California, New Jersey, and Oregon.

From 2013 to 2014, the number of uninsured children of Hispanic descent in Oklahoma fell from 20,459 to 17,175, a decrease from 14.0 to 11.4 percent. During the same period, the overall number of Hispanic children in Oklahoma grew by about 3,700, making the decline even more striking. Although this is strong progress, hastened by Affordable Care Act subsidies as well as Oklahoma-specific reforms, the state can still take steps to further grow access to coverage.

uninsured hispanic children - number

Expanding insurance brings health, social, and economic benefits

Children’s access to health insurance is vital for maintaining their well-being and giving every child a full chance at achievement. Insurance greatly improves access to primary and specialty care, reduces cost barriers, and makes a child less likely to have unmet or delayed medical needs. In addition to keeping kids healthy, insurance provides social and economic benefits to Oklahoma. Children with health insurance have better educational outcomes, including a lower chance for dropping out of high school and greater chance of graduating college. They are also more likely to have future economic success. This isn’t just good for the children and their families—it’s good for the state as well.

What triggered greater coverage for kids? Coverage for their parents

Although most uninsured Hispanic children were already eligible for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) before the Affordable Care Act, they frequently weren’t enrolled. However, many previously-uninsured parents became eligible for coverage when the new eligibility rules and enrollment opportunities were introduced in 2014 due to the Affordable Care Act. As parents enrolled themselves in health insurance, it appears many enrolled their children at the same time. Oklahoma-specific efforts, such as automatic newborn enrollment and “No Wrong Door” online enrollment, have also contributed to greater enrollment of Hispanic children across the state.

Despite success, further improvement needed

uninsured hispanic children - comparison
Graph via Georgetown Center for Children and Families

Despite the gains made, 11.4 percent of Hispanic children in Oklahoma remain uninsured, a rate higher than the national average of 9.7 percent. Barriers to Hispanic enrollment on the whole are likely contributors, including language issues, anxieties surrounding immigration enforcement, and complex eligibility rules. In addition, Oklahoma has declined federal funds to expand coverage to low-income adults — of the six states that surpassed Oklahoma for lowering their uninsured rates for Hispanic kids in 2014, only one hasn’t expanded coverage. Furthermore, Oklahoma is 1 of 22 states with a five-year waiting period before authorized immigrant children can obtain public health coverage. Combined, these factors mean that despite progress, too many Hispanic children in Oklahoma are still uninsured.

The decline in the uninsured rate of Hispanic children is a cause for optimism in Oklahoma’s ability to ensure all children have the opportunity for a healthy start in life. By taking further steps to address the disparity in health coverage for Hispanic children, Oklahoma could be celebrating successes like this in the coming years as well.

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