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Study / U.S. : medical programs report 5 million children not insured

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It is estimated that five million uninsured children in the United States were eligible for Medicaid (medical care to the poor, to children and to pregnant women living under the federal poverty level) or the Childrens Health Insurance Program or CHIP (low-cost coverage for children in families who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but cannot afford private health insurance coverage) but were not enrolled in either plan, according to a recent report published by the Urban Institute Health Policy Center.

The study published on Friday in the journal “Health Affairs” recommended policy reforms and broader efforts to get uninsured children into government medical programs, including the use of income tax data for automatic enrollment. The report estimated that 7.3 million children were uninsured on an average day in 2008 and 65 % of them were eligible for Medicaid of CHIP coverage. U.S. President Barack Obama, who signed landmark healthcare reforms into law in March, has made providing health care to all Americans a top priority of his administration.

More than half of the nation’s children live in the states of California, Texas and Florida. Furthermore 39 % of eligible uninsured children live in those three states. “This new data will help us to focus our efforts and our grant funding where they are most needed,” U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement. “We now have a much better sense of where most uninsured children live, and which communities may need more help.”

“No child should have to skip a doctor’s appointment or go without the medicine they need because their family can’t pay,” Sebelius said, challenging state and local officials to “find and enroll those five million kids.

Keeping children who are eligible for Medicaid and CHIP enrolled in these programs remains an important policy challenge. An earlier study showed that one-third of all uninsured children in 2006 had been enrolled in Medicaid or CHIP in 2005. Updated results show that in 2008, children enrolled in Medicaid were somewhat more likely to remain in the program than in 2006. However, more than a quarter of all uninsured children in 2008 had been enrolled in Medicaid or CHIP the year before. In other words, roughly two million children became uninsured in 2008, despite their ongoing eligibility for these programs. It is possible that fewer children may also be enrolling in public programs since 2006 because of requirements that their U.S. citizenship status be documented.