The number of kids in Georgia without health insurance declined between 2008 to 2012 from 11.5 percent to 9.4 percent, according to the report prepared by the State Health Access Data Assistance Center at the University of Minnesota, which compiled the numbers from Census data, But that meant Georgia still had the 10th-highest rate of uninsured children, according to the report. A big reason is the decline in the number of children being covered by employer-sponsored health insurance, said Dr. Lynn Blewett, who is director of the center. That number declined from 59 percent to 54.5 percent in Georgia and reflected a national decrease among kids covered by employers.
“That’s a significant decline,” Blewett said. “It’s even lower than the national level. If you don’t have an opportunity for kids to be covered under employers and fewer employers offering coverage, you’re likely to see higher uninsured rates for all age groups, including kids.”
It is particularly true for the poorest kids in Georgia, those in families who earn 138 percent of the Federal Poverty Level or less: those children were nearly six times more likely to be uninsured than a high-income kid, the sixth worst rate in the nation at 13.5 percent. Those kids were the hardest hit by the decline in employer-sponsored insurance, Blewett said. Hispanic kids were three times as likely to be uninsured compared to whites, which is tied for seventh worst among states.
It is bad, “although it is improving,” Blewett said. In 2009 Hispanic kids were four times more likely than whites to be uninsured in Georgia, she said. Income appears to be the bigger factor, Blewett said.
“The low income to the high income, that’s where we see the greatest disparities,” she said. “The race doesn’t even matter. If you are low-income you are less likely to have coverage.”
Interestingly, most of those low-income children should at least qualify for PeachCare, which covers children whose family income is 252 percent of the Federal Poverty Level and below, Blewett said.
“It kind of all depends on the state’s enrollment and outreach practices, how easy it is to find out (eligibility),” she said. States who don’t make it easy to find out the criteria, who have more difficult income verification rules or don’t allow enrollment online make it harder for families to get covered, Blewett said.
“Some of those things are huge barriers for low-income families,” she said.
Some of those rules were eased by the Affordable Care Act and more children might find coverage through that enrollment process in family policies, Blewett said. Others might discover during that process that their children qualified for the public programs. As the recession caused more people to lose jobs or employer coverage or both, it was the public programs like the Children’s Health Insurance Program, PeachCare in Georgia, that stepped up and led to the decline in uninsured children overall from 9.7 percent to 7.5 percent, she said.
“The Medicaid and CHIP programs really were critical during the downturn in the economy as a safety net for kids,” Blewett said.