clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

In our opinion: Rising rates of uninsured children should concern everyone

New figures from the University of Minnesota are disturbing. The number of uninsured children is growing nationwide, including in Utah, where it remains above the national average.

The analysis covers 2017 and compares it to the prior year, so voters’ decision to pass Medicaid expansion last fall, and lawmakers’ subsequent decision to overrule that and approve something much less, had nothing to do with the results.

Utah's Proposition 3 would be mostly irrelevant to this trend anyway, considering virtually all children up to age 18 in Utah are eligible for some sort of subsidized health coverage regardless of whether their parents qualify. But the reason many children remain unenrolled may have much to do with perceptions. Parents may assume their children don’t qualify — an impression that might have gone away with full Medicaid expansion.

Or, more likely, the parents themselves are uninsured, which translates into little health care for themselves or their children.

It’s time Utah and other states spent more of their resources making sure children get the care they need. The reasons ought to be obvious. They speak to the soundness of the state’s welfare and economy.

The old adage, “If you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything,” has much truth to offer. Adults who are unhealthy cannot work, which often means they cannot maintain the health insurance they need to cover medical costs.

When it comes to children, poor health translates into an inability to develop properly, physically and mentally, as well as the inability to attend school consistently. A direct correlation exists between health and self-reliance, something healthy, insured and gainfully employed adults often take for granted.

Perhaps of more immediate importance, uninsured children are less likely to become immunized. As demonstrated by the recent outbreak of measles in some parts of the country, this could have an impact on the overall health of the population.

In 2017, the study found that Utah had 67,134 uninsured children. This represented a rate higher than the national average, especially among Hispanic children.

In Utah, 6.9 percent of children are uninsured, compared to about 5 percent nationwide. But 15.5 percent of Hispanic children in Utah fell into this category, compared with only 7.8 percent nationally. That is significant, considering children in the “non-white” racial category actually were were tallied as having a better uninsured rate than the national average, 4.1 percent compared to 4.6 percent.

The Hispanic population often acts as a separate subgroup of American culture, and their behaviors may be affected more by the immigration policies of Washington than are other groups, even among those who reside in this country legally.

Also disturbing, the study found that almost 15 percent of the children of parents who have only a high school diploma or less were uninsured, compared to 8.3 percent nationwide.

At the very least, these figures argue the need for a greater awareness as to the coverage options current available. The group, Voices for Utah Children, has a campaign to do just that, but it would be helpful to have a more concerted effort from the state, including public service ads on various media outlets.

The welfare of children — the nation’s future adults and decision-makers — ought to concern everyone.