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Utah has one of the highest rates of uninsured kids. Could insuring them save taxpayers millions?

Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City is pictured on Tuesday, March 31, 2020.
Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City is pictured on Tuesday, March 31, 2020. Voice for Utah Children released a report Wednesday that estimates that Utah is actually losing out on $9.6 million by not covering uninsured children.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Utah has 82,000 children without health insurance, according to recent census data.

While coverage is expensive for those kids, Voices for Utah Children released a report Wednesday that estimates that the state is actually losing out on $9.6 million by not covering uninsured children.

An estimated 8.3% of children in Utah do not have health insurance, and the state ranks 46th — among the worst in the country — for rates of uninsured children. The report from the child advocacy organization states that children and youth of color and in rural areas are among the most likely to not have health insurance. The number of uninsured Hispanic and Latino children statewide is almost double the state average.

There was a 39% increase in the number of insured children in Utah between 2016 and 2019, which was the third-largest increase in the nation.

"Public debate often focuses on the cost to taxpayers, but what about the cost of not insuring them?" the report says, though no specific number is provided as to what the cost of insuring children may be and if it is more or less than the money saved.

When children who are not covered by health insurance require medical treatment, it results in uncompensated care, meaning that the health care providers aren’t paid. State and local public funds that could be allocated in a different area are instead used to help pay medical providers for uncompensated care.

Voices for Utah Children researchers used past census data and increases in uncompensated care to estimate that each uninsured child adds $385 to the uncompensated care cost annually, meaning that 82,000 children uninsured children would result in a cost of nearly $32 million annually. The report cites a recent Kaiser study that said that state and local governments cover about 28% of uncompensated care — around $8.8 million.

Along with the costs that taxpayers would be avoiding, the report also states that, after adjusting for demographics, Utah lags behind the average national graduation rate and "children with health insurance are more likely to graduate high school and college, earn higher wages and generate greater amounts of tax revenue for state and local governments."

Applying academic research done by Harvard and Cornell university, the authors of the report estimated that providing health insurance to the 82,000 children who are uninsured would result in an additional 187 high school graduates, 130 high school students choosing to attend college and 287 college graduates.

Census data show that further education generally means higher average earnings, and applied here it would result in a greater cumulative personal income of $9,903,545.

Utah has a median income tax rate of 8.2% for all state and local taxes, which means that covering uninsured children could generate $812,091 in new tax revenue.

Voices for Utah Children organization did not respond to multiple requests for an interview, but said in a statement that it hopes state leaders and policymakers will consider the report as they review proposals to help improve Utah's child uninsured rate.

“We can, as a state, remove barriers to Medicaid and CHIP. We can adopt policies to help the thousands of Utah children unable to access health insurance,” according to the statement.

"These state proposals have costs, but the status quo is costing us even more. Our failure to act is undermining our state's economy and holding back 82,000 children from achieving their full potential. As a state, we can no longer ignore the costs when thousands of children are uninsured and the profound savings when all children have coverage.”