SALT LAKE CITY — The number of uninsured children in Utah jumped more than 20 percent last year as part of a nationwide uptick that reversed course on years of improvement, according to a new report.
The annual report from Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families showed the number of uninsured children in the United States increased for the first time in nearly a decade.
“When a child is uninsured it can make huge problems for families because they’re looking at what happens if they break an arm or get sick,” said Terry Haven, executive director of the advocacy group Voices for Utah Children.
Nationwide, the number of children under 19 without insurance increased by 276,000 to more than 3.9 million in 2017, the report estimates. That moved the rate of uninsured kids to 5 percent—up from the historic low of 4.7 percent in 2016.
“Coverage is important for children because it improves their access to needed services, such as well-child checkups and medications, and provides better access to a usual source of care,” the report states. “Public coverage is also associated with improved educational outcomes and long-term health and economic gains.”
Utah stands out for having one of the largest increases. From 2016 to 2017, the number of uninsured children in Utah jumped 20.3 percent. Totaling 71,000 Utah children going without coverage.
Utah’s new rate of uninsured children stands at 7.3 percent, the report states, making the Beehive State one of just 12 states with “rates of uninsured children that were significantly higher than the national average.”
The report also notes that a third of the children who lost health coverage last year live in states, like Utah, that have not expanded Medicaid coverage to low-income adults.
“When a parent is insured, the child is more likely to be insured,” said Courtney Bullard with the nonprofit Utah Health Policy Project.
With the passage of Proposition 3 in Utah, which will expand Medicaid coverage next year to an estimated 150,000 residents, Bullard expects more kids to also get coverage.
“Most kids should be covered in Utah, unless you’re undocumented,” she said, adding that parents may not know about available programs.
Bullard said national policies toward undocumented immigrants, uncertainty in 2017 about the Affordable Care Act and funding delays for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, could have been factors in causing more children to go uninsured.
“This is an issue in Utah, and we want to see all of our kids covered,” she said.
Bountiful mother Julie Reed stopped by the Salt Lake City offices of the Utah Health Policy Project on Thursday to finalize her health insurance application for 2018 — which includes three children on CHIP.
“It’s, financially, a huge burden to not have health insurance,” Reed said.
She urges other parents to explore health insurance options and to enroll their children.
“The world that they feel is on their shoulder will not be there anymore,” she said. “It was a huge relief, like literally lifesaving.”