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Arizona now has nation's third-highest percentage of uninsured children

Arizona now has nation's third-highest percentage of uninsured children

The number of Arizona children without health insurance increased more than 10% between 2016 and 2018, says a new Georgetown University report.

That knocked Arizona up three spots nationally, from sixth- to third-highest in percentage of uninsured children.

About 146,000 Arizona children, or 8.4%, lacked coverage in 2018, putting the state behind only Texas, at 11.2%, and Alaska, at 9.4%, the study finds.

Nationwide, more than 4 million children were uninsured in 2018, an increase of more than 400,000 kids and the highest level since the Affordable Care Act’s coverage expansions first took effect in 2014.

“Recent policy changes and the failure to make children’s health a priority have undercut bipartisan initiatives and the Affordable Care Act, which had propelled our nation forward on children’s health coverage,” said Joan Alker, executive director of the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families, which conducts the study.

The rate of uninsured children increased nationally from 4.7% to 5.2% between 2016 and 2018, the study says, citing data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

The number of children still without insurance is the result of several things, said Zaida Dedolph, the director of health policy for Arizona’s Children’s Action Alliance, a statewide organization that advocates for children and families.

One of the factors, Dedolph said: The amount of time for people to enroll in government-subsidized health insurance programs has been cut in half and now runs from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15 instead of lasting three months as it used to.

Many people hear about the enrollment period only by word of mouth because outreach and advertising have been cut, she said.

There have also been delays in federal funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, known as KidsCare in Arizona.

About 27% of all children in Arizona were born outside the country, or have a parent or parents who were, which can make families afraid to come forward, Dedolph said.

“There’s a lot of fear and misinformation and so people are not applying for the services they are eligible for,” she said. “It’s a combination of there being attacks on immigrant communities, attacks on the Affordable Care Act and too much reliance on word of mouth.”

Children who are enrolled in a tribe, or have a parent or grandparent who is enrolled, can qualify for KidsCare without needing to pay a premium, she said.

Findings in the report show fewer children are getting enrolled because of efforts to repeal the ACA and cuts to Medicaid, which is known in this state as the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System.

Arizona’s rapid population growth is one of the reasons for the change, said Patrick Ptak, director of communications for Gov. Doug Ducey.

“While we haven’t fully reviewed this report, this administration has taken significant action to expand and protect health care for Arizona’s kids,” he wrote in an email response to questions from the Star.

“In 2016, Governor Ducey called for and signed legislation eliminating the KidsCare freeze that had been in place since 2010, providing access to care for tens of thousands of kids from low income households. This legislation increased the number of Arizona kids accessing health care through KidsCare from 882 in October 2015 to 36,050 today.”

In 2017, he said, Ducey led an effort to protect care for roughly 23,000 children utilizing KidsCare when funding authorization lapsed in Congress.

“The state came up with its own funding solution to ensure no kid would lose coverage,” he said. “And this year, the governor proposed in his executive budget and signed legislation providing $1.6 million to protect care for roughly 6,000 kids under KidsCare.”

This is the ninth annual report on uninsured children published by the Center for Children and Families, which is an independent, nonpartisan policy and research center working to expand affordable coverage for children and families.

“Children need to grow up healthy in order to succeed and families striving to make ends meet need the financial security to know they aren’t one injury or diagnosis away from financial ruin,” said Siman Qaasim, president of the Children’s Action Alliance. “I’m confident that we can do better than this; it’s time to double down on our long-standing bipartisan support for children’s health coverage.”

Contact reporter Patty Machelor at pmachelor@tucson.com or 806-7754. On Twitter: @pattymachstar

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