Health insurance gains for Colorado kids stall

Written by: Erin Miller
Date Posted: October 4, 2019

Last week two separate surveys showed that the historic gains Colorado has seen in covering all kids with health insurance have stalled—and the reasons why aren’t surprising.

Health insurance coverage is critically important for children and families in Colorado. It improves access to vital health services, improves mental health, reduces infant, child and maternal mortality, and provides necessary financial protection for families. Kids with health insurance coverage are less likely to drop out of high school, more likely to graduate from college, and have higher incomes as adults.

Uninsured Colorado Children under 19

This is why the Children’s Campaign, together with our partners through All Kids Covered have been fighting to get kids covered for more than a decade. And we saw real progress. The percent of kids without health insurance declined from more than 10 percent in 2009 to 4 percent in 2016. During this time, the state made a number of policy changes that helped Colorado kids get enrolled in coverage, such as increasing eligibility levels and eliminating the waiting period for coverage through our Children’s Health Insurance Program, CHP+. Some of the biggest coverage gains occurred when more parents and adults became eligible for insurance coverage through Health First Colorado (Colorado’s Medicaid program) and Connect for Health Colorado under the Affordable Care Act. Many of the kids who gained coverage during that time had already been eligible for coverage programs in Colorado but were not enrolled. They became enrolled as whole families learned about their coverage options. Messages from Washington, D.C. about the importance of health insurance coverage and the right to have it resonated throughout communities and people got covered. But our progress has stalled according to two recent surveys.

According to the American Community Survey (ACS) from the U.S. Census Bureau, Colorado’s uninsured rate for kids under 19 remained relatively unchanged in 2018 at 4.6 percent, not a statistically significant increase from 4.3 percent in 2017. The ACS numbers also showed a small (though statistically insignificant) uptick in the uninsured rate for Hispanic/Latino children from 6.3 percent to 6.6 percent. Similarly, the Colorado Health Access Survey (using more recent data and a different methodology) found that the overall uninsured rate for kids went up to 4.3 percent in 2019 from 3 percent in 2017 (a statistically insignificant increase). However, the same survey found that the uninsured rate for Hispanic children in Colorado jumped from 2.4 percent in 2017 to 7.9 percent in 2019. This change is statistically significant—and alarming.

The shift in federal rhetoric under the Trump administration helps to explain why progress has stalled now. The Trump Administration is using racist messages to claim that our immigrant neighbors, including those who are lawfully present, and many of their citizen children, do not deserve health insurance coverage. Every child deserves health insurance coverage, and we know that what these communities gain from insurance coverage benefits everyone. While federal policy changes related to immigrants in publicly financed insurance programs such as Medicaid and CHP+ have been small, the rhetoric echoes through our state and our kids are losing coverage. In many ways, Colorado is doing all it can to fight against these changes, and All Kids Covered is working with state policymakers to ensure that our public programs run as smoothly as possible, including exploring ways to ease enrollment into programs and reduce churn between programs. But there is a limit to what we can do as a state. We need federal partners to ensure that all kids have access to  quality, affordable health insurance coverage—so that our kids can grow up to be healthy and happy.

Erin Miller

About Erin Miller

Erin serves as the Vice President of Health Initiatives for the Colorado Children’s Campaign, leading efforts to improve health insurance coverage and quality for Colorado’s kids, improve access to health services, and ensure that every child has healthy places to live, learn, and play. Prior to joining the Children’s Campaign in September 2015, Erin worked on the Accountable Care Collaborative team at the Colorado Department of Health Policy and Financing. She has extensive experience evaluating federal, state, and local policies related to Medicaid, CHIP, the Affordable Care Act, and public health programs as well as working with legislators, policymakers, constituents, and other stakeholders to improve the health and well-being of vulnerable populations. Her professional experiences range from serving as a WIC Educator and Local Area Retail Coordinator for Denver Health to serving as a Special Assistant in the HHS Office of Planning and Evaluation in Washington DC and as a Health Policy Adviser and Budget Analyst for the U.S. House Budget Committee.