Courtesy Kaiser Health News

By Phil Galewitz | Kaiser Health News

After years of steady decline, the number of U.S. children without health insurance rose by 276,000 in 2017, according to a Georgetown University report released Thursday.

While not a big jump statistically — the share of uninsured kids rose to 5 percent in 2017 from 4.7 percent a year earlier — it is still striking. The uninsured rate typically remains stable or drops during times of economic growth. In September, the U.S. unemployment rate hit its lowest level since 1969.

According to the report, the number of uninsured children in Kentucky under age 19 climbed 17 percent, to 41,000 in 20017, from 35,000 in 2016. Kentucky, a Medicaid expansion state, dropped in state ranking of number of uninsured by two points to 26, the report said. The percent of uninsured rose to 3.8 percent in 2017 from 3.3 percent.

“The nation is going backwards on insuring kids and it is likely to get worse,” said Joan Alker, co-author of the study and executive director of Georgetown’s Center for Children and Families.

Alker and other child health advocates place the blame for this change on the Trump administration and the Republican-controlled Congress, saying their policies and actions cast a pall on enrollment.

The number of children without coverage rose to 3.9 million in 2017 from about 3.6 million a year earlier, according to census data analyzed by Georgetown.

The overall uninsured rate for people of all ages — which plummeted from 2013 to 2016 following the Affordable Care Act’s implementation — remained unchanged at 8.8 percent last year.

The share of children with employer-sponsored coverage rose modestly in 2017, but not by enough to make up for the drop in children enrolling in Medicaid or getting coverage from ACA insurance exchanges, Alker said.

While no states made any significant gains in lowering children’s uninsured rate, nine states experienced significant increases. The biggest occurred in South Dakota (up from 4.7 percent to 6.2 percent), Utah (up from 6 percent to 7.3 percent) and Texas (from 9.8 percent to 10.7 percent).

More than 1 in 5 uninsured children nationwide live in Texas — about 835,000 kids — by far the highest number of any state.

Florida had 325,000 uninsured children last year, as its uninsured rate for that age group rose 0.7 percentage points to 7.3 percent. California had 301,000 children without insurance, though its number remained virtually unchanged, relative to the previous year.

Other states with significant increases were Georgia, South Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee and Massachusetts.

The uninsured rates for children increased at nearly triple the rates in states that did not expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, according to the report. Studies have shown that children whose parents are insured are more likely to have coverage.

The uninsured rate among Hispanic children was 7.8 percent, compared with 4.9 percent among whites and 4.6 percent among blacks overall. (Hispanics can be of any race.)

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