UNINSURED CHILDREN: More Today Than Before CHIP, California in Lead
A disheartening new study reveals that, in the twelve states with the largest number of uninsured residents, fewer children are covered in 1999 by Medicaid and CHIP than were covered in 1996 by Medicaid alone. The study, released Wednesday by "consumer watchdog group" Families USA, reported that although CHIP participation has increased significantly in recent months, coverage gains were more than offset by reductions in children's Medicaid coverage -- largely due to welfare reform (Families USA release, 10/20). The report studied Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas, finding that children's enrollment in federal-state health insurance programs declined by 219,910 from 1996 to 1999, with the ranks of uninsured children increasing by 14.2% in Texas alone. Today, 11 million children nationwide are uninsured. California, the most populous state in the nation, leads with 1.7 million children uninsured. From December 1998 to June 1999, CHIP enrollment in the 12 states studied, accounting for nearly two-thirds of the nation's uninsured children, increased by more than 55%; but from 1996 to 1999, the 12-state Medicaid enrollment dropped from 11 million to 10 million. "We are taking an impressive step forward in covering children through the Children's Health Insurance Program," said Families USA Executive Director Ron Pollack, "But due to the state's shoddy implementation of welfare reform, we are taking an even larger step backwards in covering kids" (Families USA release, 10/20). The full report and state specific information can be obtained on the Families USA web site, www.familiesusa.org.
Welfare to Blame?
Families USA blames the coverage decline on the 1996 welfare reform law. Many families mistakenly think they're losing Medicaid eligibility when they go off welfare, leading eligible children to be dropped from Medicaid or never even enrolled. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions ranking member Edward Kennedy (D-MA), who spearheaded CHIP legislation, noted, "At least half of the children who lose Medicaid when their family moves from welfare to work are likely to remain uninsured" (CongressDaily/A.M., 10/21). An unrelated study by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), a "liberal research group," concurs with the Families USA findings. The CBPP report, which examined low-income children in 1996 and 1998, found that there were "7 million low-income uninsured children last year, a number that has not changed over two years, despite low unemployment and the creation of [CHIP]" the AP/Worcester Telegram & Gazette reports. Moreover, the study found "sharp declines" in the number of poor children on Medicaid -- as states enroll children in CHIP, they are simply replacing (at least numerically) those who lose Medicaid coverage. The CBPP study concludes, "The nation is losing a significant opportunity to reduce the number of low-income children without health insurance" (10/21).
Bad for Bush
With over 1.4 million Texas children uninsured, the study results quickly became political ammunition for opponents of state governor and GOP presidential hopeful George W. Bush. Vice president Al Gore's camp commented, "Today's report is further evidence that the governor's batting average, when it comes to children, is bush league -- last in environment, last in children's health care coverage and near last in the quality of life for our kids." Bush spokesperson Mindy Tucker responded that Gore was overlooking the 69% of Texans, "who just last year overwhelmingly approved of Gov. Bush's record of ... expanding health care coverage for children ..." (Lee, Dallas Morning News, 10/21).
Private Solution? Dell Steps In
While the politicians duke it out, Texas computer tycoon Michael Dell will be forking it out -- Dell and his wife have pledged to help pay for insurance coverage for children in two Texas counties until the state's full CHIP implementation, scheduled for May 2000. The AP/Dallas Morning News reports that, with the Dells' donation, eligible families "can apply for medical and dental insurance that will cost between $15 per year and $18 per month per family, depending on income." In an effort to "jump-start" Texas CHIP enrollment, the Dells have also pledged an additional $1.9 million of their personal fortune to a sign-up campaign (10/21).