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More Families Turning to Public Plans for Children's Health Care

MONDAY, Aug. 1 (HealthDay News) -- A growing number of American families are using public health insurance to provide coverage for their children, a new study finds.

The trend, which is being driven by job losses, changes in coverage within private plans and expanded access to public plans is particularly strong in rural and inner-city areas, according to the University of New Hampshire researchers.

"When people become unemployed, not only do they lose their employment-based private insurance but, with the loss of income, families may become newly eligible for public plans," the researchers noted.

"In addition, the generally poor economy and expanded eligibility for public plans may also play less direct roles in the shifting rates of health insurance among children," they said.

The team's analysis of 2008 and 2009 U.S. Census Bureau data and 2009 Bureau of Labor Statistics data revealed that health insurance coverage among children increased 1.3 percent from 2008 to 2009. The Northeast has the highest rate of coverage (95 percent) while the South has the lowest (89 percent).

Among the other findings:

  • There was a significant increase in the number of children covered by public health insurance in 44 states, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, and 27 states had a decline in private health insurance coverage for children.
  • The largest shift from private to public insurance occurred in Midwestern central cities, where private insurance fell 4.3 percent and public coverage rose 6.5 percent.

About 9 percent of children in the United States are still not covered by any form of insurance, but half of those children are eligible for coverage through Medicaid or the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), the study authors noted.

"Research demonstrates that most of these eligible children come from states with low participation rates and are disproportionately Hispanic. Because those who have health insurance are healthier overall and, more importantly, because healthy children are more likely to become healthy adults, focusing on covering eligible children should remain at the forefront of the nation's agenda," the researchers concluded.

More information

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has more about children and health insurance.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: University of New Hampshire, news release, July 27, 2011

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