Data released yesterday from the U.S. Census reveals that Washington’s rural children are much more likely to be uninsured than children in urban areas. One in four children in Franklin (30 percent) and Yakima (26.6 percent) counties lacked health insurance in 2008. These are startling figures compared with urban counties like Spokane (4.1 percent) and King (6.4 percent).
What these disparities in coverage rates tell us is that, while we’ve made great strides in covering kids through the Apple Health for Kids program, there are targeted areas where we need to move forward more quickly with new and innovative strategies for enrolling uninsured children and keeping them covered. For example, the state has plans to automatically enroll children in Apple Health for Kids when their parents enroll in Basic Food, more commonly known as food stamps. This is a proven strategy for identifying and enrolling children, and the state should expedite the process.
The most recent data on trends in health insurance coverage indicate that the rate of uninsured children in Washington remained the same – 6.8 percent – between 2007 and 2008. However, the percent of children covered by employer-based plans decreased, accompanied by a corresponding increase in children covered by government plans.
The data were collected throughout 2008, much of it before the most severe part of the economic downturn in Washington. “These numbers only reflect the early effects of the recession, the numbers for next year will be much worse without more targeted outreach to get hard-to-reach children covered”, says Lori Pfingst, Assistant Director of Washington KIDS COUNT, who crunched the numbers for us.
At least 40,000 additional children are expected to enter poverty this year due to rising unemployment. Poverty can have significant, long-term negative effects on child health outcomes, which makes the availability of public health insurance programs like Apple Health for Kids all the more important during the recession.