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Report Shows Nationwide Increase In Uninsured Children

Keith Srakocic
Eight-year-old Abigail Gabriel, center, hugs her mother, Erin, from her wheelchair as Pennsylvania Department of Human Services Acting Secretary Teresa Miller, Thursday, Dec. talks about the Children's Health Insurance Program, CHIP, during a news confere

Pennsylvania's population of uninsured children decreased slightly amid a nationwide increase in uninsured children. 

For the first time in at least 8 years, the number of uninsured children rose in the U.S., according to a study from Georgetown University Center for Children and Families. 

In Pennsylvania, 125,000 people 19 or younger didn't have health insurance in 2017, the report states. That's 1,000 fewer children than in the previous year. 

"But 125,000 children are uninsured in Pennsylvania, and the vast majority are eligible for public health insurance, either CHIP or Medicaid," said Colleen McCauley, health policy director at Philadelphia-based Public Citizens for Children and Youth.

McCauley said federal efforts to dismantle CHIP and alienate immigrant populations are causing confusion, leaving some people thinking their children don't qualify. She pointed to a 2017 congressional effort to cut CHIP funding, which did not pass, but which nonetheless raised enough fears that organizations such as hers sent out warning notices to families saying that they might not have CHIP the following year. 

Health insurance is vital for a child's well-being and educational success, McCauley said. It also can spare families from devastating emergency room bills. 

"When kids have coverage, they can get the care they need so they can show up for school ready to learn. Families can take their kids to the doctor when they're sick. They don't have to rely on more expensive hospital-based care." 

From 2016 to 2017, Pennsylvania's rate of uninsured children remained the same at 4.4 percent. The Commonwealth ranked 25th, up from 29th the previous year. Massachusetts had the lowest uninsured rate, 1.5 percent, while Alaska had the highest at 9.6 percent. 

States that expanded Medicaid in 2014, including Pennsylvania, generally showed more improvement or resilience than other states, according to a summary of the report. Three-quarters of the children who lost coverage between 2016 and 2017 live in states that have not expanded Medicaid coverage to parents and other low-income adults.

*This story was updated at 11:01 a.m. to correct that Pennsylvania ranked 25th, not 29th as previously stated.