STATE OF OPPORTUNITY. Can Kids in Michigan Get Ahead?
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This special reporting project wrapped up in May 2017. Read more.

Why are many black and Hispanic kids uninsured when they don't have to be?

Boggs School

Health care is expensive.

Even with insurance, I've paid $25 co-pays to my kids' doctor only to have them out in 10 minutes and diagnosed with "a fever."

But having insurance means I can take them to get medical treatment for a lot less than if I didn't have insurance at all.

Children whose parents either don't have insurance through an employer or can't afford private insurance often qualify for federally-funded programs like Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

But a recent study found nearly half of parents of minority kids in the U.S. aren't aware their children qualify for these programs, leaving many children uninsured when they don't have to be.

Minority children in the United States have the lowest rates of insurance. Hispanic and black children account for 53% of uninsured children in the nation (2.4 million), despite comprising less than half of the total population of U.S. children.

The study, published in the International Journal for Equity in Health, was conducted between 2011 and 2014 in Dallas. Researchers went to 97 sites in areas with low-income residents and recruited parents at Goodwill stores, laundromats, public libraries, food banks and other community centers.

They were looking for kids who met three criteria. They were up to 18 years old and lacked health insurance; their parents identified them as Latino/Hispanic, African-American/black, or both; and they had to be eligible for Medicaid or CHIP.

The study found:

  • Forty-nine percent of parents were unaware their kid was currently eligible for Medicaid or CHIP. But 95% of all children had been insured in the past;
  • Parents with higher incomes were more likely to be unaware that their children qualified for insurance; and
  • Latino parents were more likely to be unaware than African-American parents.

Parents of uninsured children cited a number of reasons for lapses in insurance including: their insurance expiring without them reapplying, applying but never receiving a reply, missing paperwork, and spouses who were supposed to cover the children.

But kids without insurance were still receiving health care – at their parents' expense.

On average, they went to a physician three times a year, and to an emergency room once. Their parents paid an average of $593 per hospitalization, and $47 per preventative visit.

The majority of parents interviewed had delayed care for their kids, and said they worry more about their children's health than other people do.

Genevieve Kenney, an economist who is senior fellow and co-director of the Health Policy Center at the Urban Institute told The Washington Post:

The parents of children who are uninsured are much less likely to feel confident that their children can get the care they need. We’re learning more and more that those kinds of worries and anxieties have adverse effects on families.

Dr. Glenn Flores is author of the study. He said in a press release:

Our findings indicate an urgent need for better parental education about Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). The findings also indicate a need to improve Medicaid/CHIP outreach and enrollment.

State of Opportunity has talked a lot aboutgetting health care to those who need it. And based on the findings of this latest study, raising awareness and outreach will be crucial to insuring more uninsured children.

You can read the full report here.

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