Written by Theresa Sullivan Barger
The number of uninsured children in Connecticut remained steady at 6 percent in 2010, better than the national average, recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s population survey shows.
But it’s still a concern that an estimated 49,000 Connecticut children under 18 lack health insurance, said Mary Alice Lee, senior policy fellow with Connecticut Voices for Children.
The state does provide low-cost insurance for children, under the Husky program.
Lee said that given the state’s economic downturn and the 9 percent unemployment rate in 2010, the fact that the percentage of uninsured children held steady means that the Husky program is working.
“The number of uninsured children in Connecticut is really relatively low compared to other states,” Lee said. Nationally, 9.8 percent of children under 18 were uninsured in 2010. “The HUSKY program is doing exactly what it’s supposed to do, that is, provide affordable coverage for children during times of economic stress.”
Lee said that there are factors that keep eligible children from receiving health insurance.
The leading reason is that even though Connecticut has increased the income limits for qualification for the HUSKY program, some working families make too much to be entitled to free health insurance under Medicaid and too little to be able to afford the premiums. Under the HUSKY B program, the state gets a group discount and offers insurance to qualifying families at a reduced premium rate. This may cost less than what someone could pay as an individual or through their employer, but it’s still out of reach for thousands of families.
Another factor, Lee said, is a misunderstanding by parents on the need to reapply for coverage each year. While some states, such as Louisiana, automatically renew children under 18 and ask parents to notify them if their circumstances change, Connecticut requires parents to fill out a renewal form each year and send it in.
Similarly, in Connecticut, many children who turn 18 while enrolled in HUSKY A (Medicaid) risk losing coverage due to administrative error. The notice that the DSS sends to their parents does not make it clear that children are eligible until their 19th birthdays, Lee said. Because of the confusion it causes, 18-year-olds are much more likely than children in other age groups to lose HUSKY coverage shortly after their birthday.
Children of undocumented immigrants also may lack coverage, Lee said. Children born in the U.S. are entitled to federally funded health insurance, regardless of their parents’ citizenship status, but parents who are in the country illegally fear the government.
“That’s why we think it’s really important that there be community-based people who understand this and can help families get the coverage that their kids need,” she said.
Finally, she said, eligible children don’t get coverage because of the language barrier and a general lack of awareness. Even those who don’t qualify for Medicaid could qualify for the HUSKY B program.
In a report on uninsured children, Voices for Children recommends that the state adopt a single, simplified application procedure to obtain and renew Medicaid, CHIP and affordable coverage; streamline the process by using income data collected for other public benefit programs to determine eligibility and health insurance coverage; and ensure that community-based social service and health care providers are well-informed about the eligibility of health options so they can inform their clients.
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