WORKING POOR: Nearly Half of Working Parents Uninsured
A new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities finds that almost one-half of the nation's working poor parents lacked health insurance coverage through 1997. Specifically, 46% of parents below the federal poverty level and more than one in three parents below 200% of the level were uninsured. Further, the state-by-state analysis shows, working poor parents are twice as likely to be uninsured as are unemployed parents. Many states, the study emphasizes, do a better job of covering the children of low-income parents than it does the parents themselves. Some 21 states exclude two-parent households from Medicaid eligibility, a limitation stemming from now-defunct welfare laws. The study postulates that recent improvements in the economy and sinking welfare rolls are responsible for the lower insurance rates -- more parents today are working at low-wage jobs rather than receiving welfare and accompanying Medicaid benefits.
The study finds that few states have yet to take advantage of a new federal welfare law that matches state Medicaid funds that go to cover the cost of insuring low-income working parents. To date, only a few states, including the District of Columbia, Rhode Island, Missouri and Wisconsin, have taken advantage of the new option. The study, "Employed but Uninsured: A State-by-State Analysis of the Number of Low-Income Working Parents Who Lack Health Insurance," is available from the Washington, D.C.-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities at its website, www.cbpp.org (CBPP release, 2/9).
South Carolina officials note that parents in the state are hit especially hard because of "the state's large number of poor families, inadequate tax revenue and different spending priorities." Further, while the state extends coverage to adults making the transition off of welfare, the "cutoff is so low that parents in a three-person family can work no more than 22 hours a week earning $7 per hour" before they become ineligible. The AP/Charleston Post & Courier reports that health care advocates in the state are working to make legislators aware that the federal government allows some states to expand Medicaid coverage to low-income parents who would not normally meet the program's requirements (2/9).