Kohler: Texas shouldn't accept rising uninsured rate for children

When Rocio Castillo’s kids and other Texas children are healthy, they are more likely to make it to school each day and focus in the classroom. When children in Longview are able to go to regular checkups, they can get immunizations to keep them healthy. When children attend those appointments during the critical period of early childhood brain development, doctors can spot developmental delays that might require occupational therapy or speech therapy. And when kids across Texas are sick, whether it’s strep throat or a scary battle with cancer, they need to quickly get a diagnosis and appropriate medical care.

But new numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau show that many kids in Longview and throughout Texas are not able to get the health care they need.

The data show that Texas has the nation’s highest rate of children without health insurance — by far.

In Texas, 11.2% of kids were uninsured in 2019, twice the national average and much higher than the second worst rate, Alaska’s 9.4%. It’s a problem throughout the state, with metro areas from Longview to Odessa, Amarillo to Brownsville, and Dallas to Houston all dealing with children’s uninsured rates that are much higher than the nationwide rate.

Lately, Texas is moving in the wrong direction, with the uninsured rate for kids getting worse each of the last two years. Data from our state’s Health and Human Services Commission reveal a big reason that more of our children are uninsured: the number of Texas kids enrolled in Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program fell by 228,000 from December 2017 to June 2019, a 7% decline.

This brings us back to Rocio Castillo’s kids — and what the Legislature can do to get Texas moving in the right direction.

During the recent legislative session, the San Antonio Express-News reported that Ms. Castillo’s kids, like thousands of other children in Texas, lost their Medicaid health insurance due to extra red tape in the state’s current system.

The paper reported, “She is constantly sending documentation to the state, she said, even though nothing is changing with her family income.”

At a time so many employers in Texas pay low wages and offer little to nothing in terms of health coverage for their employees and their families, Medicaid and CHIP are critical for providing health care to the children of construction workers, sales clerks, janitors, home health aides, and other Texans.

But the state requires many families to keep providing more documentation throughout the year, on a tight timeline, to remain enrolled. As a result, many Texas kids cycle on and off of insurance, leaving gaps in their health care and creating more paperwork for doctors, the state, and others.

State legislators on both sides of the aisle have recognized that the system needs to be improved so eligible children stay enrolled in Medicaid. During this year’s legislative session, Rep. Philip Cortez teamed up with House Human Services Committee Chairman James Frank and children’s advocates to pass a bipartisan measure through the Texas House to take a first step toward reducing the unnecessary paperwork.

Unfortunately, the Senate did not take up the legislation. In the end, the Legislature did not pass any bills to reduce the uninsured rate of Texas kids.

We’re disappointed the Legislature came up short, but hopeful that state leaders will build on the conversation that started during the recent session, take a hard look at the numbers and decide to make children’s health coverage a priority.

By making administrative improvements to the state’s system this year, and passing children’s health coverage legislation during the 2021 legislative session, state leaders can cut through the red tape that families face and ensure that more eligible kids stay enrolled in their health coverage.

— Adriana Kohler is the senior health policy associate at Texans Care for Children.

Today's Bible verse

“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.”

— Titus 2:11

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