Uninsured children rate declines since 2000

September 26th, 2013


Appeared in the Hattiesburg American September 24, 2013

The number of children without health insurance in Mississippi fell dramatically between 2006 and 2012 from 117,619 to 68,472 according to Census Bureau data released last week. These gains were largely due to the success of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), launched in 1998, along with Medicaid.

The trend among children, however, contrasts sharply with that of adults. In 2012, more than 450,000 adult Mississippians younger than 65 did not have health insurance. That’s largely because private insurance coverage — in particular, job-based coverage — declined over the last decade. Whereas 64.2 percent of Mississippi’s population younger than 65 had employer-based health insurance in 1999-2000, only 53.7 percent had employer sponsored health insurance in 2011-12.

Right now, when hard-working Mississippians lose their job-based coverage, most have nowhere else to turn. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, that will change dramatically in 2014.

Starting on Oct. 1, many working Mississippians who can’t get affordable health insurance through their jobs and earn too much to qualify for Medicaid can sign up for coverage through the new health insurance exchange. Many people will be eligible for new federal subsidies to help pay premiums and reduce out-of-pocket health costs. An estimated 275,000 Mississippians are expected to become eligible for coverage through the exchange. The exchange remains a sound option for people without insurance to pursue an affordable option. In Mississippi, if you live in a four-person family with two children and earn $40,000 a year, the uninsured adults in that family will qualify for subsidies to purchase insurance for example through the exchange.

At the same time, the state’s leaders have refused to accept federal funds to expand Medicaid to cover an additional 300,000 Mississippians. Ironically, for a working family similar to the one described above with the exception of lower earnings — $18,000 a year for example — there is no assistance available and those parents will be left uninsured and out in the cold.

Who will be left out? Mississippians like cashiers, construction workers, maintenance workers, waitresses and cooks whom our society depends on every day. Where will they go? At first, the workers will not go anywhere. Eventually, after delaying treatment for illnesses and ailments until they become too painful to ignore, uninsured individuals will end up in the emergency room requiring expensive treatment without the resources to pay for it.

Not surprisingly, hospitals around the state have announced losses due to high levels of uncompensated care, including here in Hattiesburg. The scenario described above is no longer sustainable. The expansion of Medicaid remains one of the only ways to replace part of the lost revenue at meaningful levels.

Medicaid Expansion remains an incredibly good deal for the state of Mississippi and would benefit the state tremendously. It provides an opportunity to bring billions of dollars into the state, create jobs and stabilize our hospitals. As more Mississippians gain access to health insurance, they will also become healthier, miss less work and become more productive.

Jessica Shappley, Policy Analyst

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