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Pennsylvania kids' enrollment in Medicaid increased by 14% during the pandemic

2021 state of children's health care CHIP Medicaid.JPG
2021 State of Children's Health Care in Pennsylvania
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Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children
Percentage change in children enrolled in Medicaid and CHIP, February 2020 to August 2021

Children’s enrollment in Medicaid increased by 14% statewide during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a report released last week. All 67 counties saw increases in children’s enrollment, according to the report, from Harrisburg-based advocacy group Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children.

"This is not an issue that is specific to one particular city or one particular region of the state," said Kari King, the group's executive director. "It has been experienced literally from corner to corner of the state.”

Since the beginning of the pandemic, more than 169,000 additional Pennsylvania children have enrolled in Medicaid. More than 1.37 million kids are enrolled in the program statewide.

Medicaid is a joint federal-state program that provides health insurance to low-income and disabled individuals. And the increase in the number of children enrolled in the program is likely due to the pandemic’s economic impacts, such as the loss of jobs or income, as well as to rule changes early in the pandemic.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act, passed in March 2020, put in place a "disenrollment freeze." Under the freeze, once someone is enrolled in Medicaid, they stay enrolled, eliminating problems with paperwork and periodic renewals that might otherwise push people off the program.

King said the overall enrollment trend "really reinforces how again during the pandemic, these public health coverage options have stepped in to make sure that kids and families are still insured.”

While Medicaid enrollment has increased generally during the pandemic, that’s not the case for all public assistance programs.

During the same time period, enrollment in CHIP, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, declined by about 31,000 children. Most of those children were likely moved to Medicaid coverage, however: CHIP insures kids whose families earn too much to qualify for Medicaid.

The report also noted a number of disparities in the pandemic's impact. Black households with children were three times more likely to have lost employment income than white households. And Black households with kids were more likely to report having difficulty paying for expenses than white households with kids.

Additionally, the report looked at declines during the pandemic in routine childhood vaccinations for 17 different diseases such as measles, mumps, and whooping cough. Overall, Pennsylvania had a 5 percent decline in vaccination coverage, the report noted, though that varied widely among counties.

Kate Giammarise focuses her reporting on poverty, social services and affordable housing. Before joining WESA, she covered those topics for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for nearly five years; prior to that, she spent several years in the paper’s Harrisburg bureau covering the legislature, governor and state government. She can be reached at kgiammarise@wesa.fm or 412-697-2953.
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