Little-Noticed Obamacare Provision Insuring Hundreds Of Thousands Of Kids In Red States

In this Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014 photo, Dr. Marie-Denise Gervais talks to Amos LeClerc as she performs an examination on him at a clinic in a Miami high school. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/J PAT CARTER
In this Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014 photo, Dr. Marie-Denise Gervais talks to Amos LeClerc as she performs an examination on him at a clinic in a Miami high school. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/J PAT CARTER

Florida and Texas — two states in which GOP lawmakers refused to expand Medicaid for adults — broadened coverage for children earlier this year and enrolled thousands of youngsters, according to a survey conducted by Kaiser Health News.

Since the beginning of the year, more than 200,000 children enrolled in Texas’ Medicaid program — more than 75 percent of whom most likely transferred from the state’s Children’s Insurance Program (CHIP), the federal-state program for families with incomes too high to qualify for Medicaid but too low to afford private insurance. Florida experienced a similar spike in enrollment, with 137,000 new children joining — more than 62,000 of whom counted among former members of the state’s CHIP program.

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Experts ascribe the growth in enrollment among youngsters to a little known provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that requires states to expand coverage to children between the ages of six and 18. Children in 21 states — most of which are controlled by Democrats — received coverage under Medicaid. This year, California led the charge, covering nearly 750,000 youngsters.

The positive trend in Medicaid enrollment among low-income children shows promise of changing the health outcomes of a group that experts say often misses opportunities to diagnose serious health conditions early. Right now, more than 5 million people — nearly 10 percent of whom are children — don’t have health insurance. The uninsured stand the most likely to have their health decline upon discovery of a chronic disease, due to a lack of follow-up care and the burdensome cost of medication, according to a 2012 Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation report.

But the poor aren’t the only people who suffer. In states that have yet to broaden Medicaid coverage, tax payer dollars pick up the cost of uninsured patients. The high levels of uncompensated care also places many rural and inner city hospitals in these states at risk of budget cuts or shuttering. While Texas and Florida’s recent decision gives ACA proponents cause for celebration, some people like Anne Dunkelberg, associate director for Austin’s Public Policy Priorities think differently: “It’s a lost opportunity for Texas to cover the kids and teens, but not their parents,” Dunkelberg told Kaiser Health News.

Monday’s news comes during a time when GOP lawmakers are feeling mounting pressure to broaden their states’ Medicaid programs in recent months. Last week, the Obama administration released a report that showed that the cost of uncompensated care will decrease by nearly $6 billion because of Medicaid expansion under the ACA. In recent months, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire — two GOP-led states — broadened its Medicaid programs so that low-income adults could enroll, bringing the total to 27 states and the District of Columbia.