LINCOLN - The number of children across the country who lack health insurance increased by more than 400,000 between 2016 and 2018, and progress made in Nebraska has stalled, according to a new Georgetown University report.
Molly McCleery, health-care access program director for Nebraska Appleseed, said 5.2% of the state's children don't have insurance, and an additional 1,000 Nebraska kids lost coverage during the time covered in the report.
"It's really important for children to have coverage," she said. "Children who have health insurance and have a usual source of care in their youth have better health outcomes over the course of their life."
Nearly one in five American Indian children in Nebraska are uninsured. McCleery said 88% of kids eligible for coverage are participating in Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), but she said that leaves many without regular access to care.
The report cited efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act and cut Medicaid, additional red tape, delays in funding CHIP, and budget cuts to enrollment outreach and advertising as primary causes of lost coverage.
In 2016, the same researchers reported the lowest number of uninsured children in a decade, but Joan Alker, executive director of the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families, said that trend now has reversed. To get back on track, Alker said, federal and state leaders need to make children's health a priority.
"Start reducing those red-tape barriers, start funding more outreach and enrollment efforts," she said, "so that families know they can get coverage - and then, how they can get coverage, and they can do it easily."
Alker said having just one uninsured family member can lead to medical debt and even bankruptcy. Researchers found the loss of coverage was most pronounced for white and Latino children, and suggested that a climate of fear may have discouraged immigrant families from enrolling eligible children in Medicaid or CHIP.