For more than two years, the pandemic has brought with it no shortage of challenges for our Commonwealth. One silver lining, however, has been children’s continued access to health coverage through Medicaid and the Kentucky Children’s Health Insurance Program (KCHIP). Nearly half of all children in the United States are insured through these programs, according to a report from the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families (CCF). In Kentucky, nearly 620,000 children, or about 61% of our children under the age of 19, are enrolled in Medicaid and KCHIP.
Medicaid and KCHIP coverage means families have had access to essential care and greater financial security during an otherwise very tumultuous time. Beyond the pandemic, research shows coverage for children has lasting benefits, including fewer chronic conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes in adults who had coverage as children, higher educational attainment, and positive economic benefits through income higher wages in adulthood. The reward for both the children and our entire Commonwealth is enormous.
But in the coming months, thousands of children will be at risk of losing this critical coverage as Kentucky begins to withdraw from the continuous coverage requirement that has been in place during the public health emergency (PHE) of COVID-19 and resume previous coverage. pandemic operations. At this point, Kentucky will re-determine eligibility for all Medicaid and KCHIP enrollees, including many low-income children, parents, grandparents, pregnant mothers, and working families.
This change represents the biggest challenge to public health coverage in a decade. And it could be disastrous for our children if Kentucky is not deliberate, thoughtful and proactive in its approach to confirming children’s eligibility and supporting those who are no longer eligible in the transition to other sources of health insurance coverage.
In fact, the Georgetown University CCF estimates that nearly 7 million children across the country are likely to lose their coverage and are at significant risk of becoming uninsured or experiencing a coverage gap. Applying the same estimate to Kentucky, we expect up to 117,800 or 19% of children currently enrolled in Medicaid and KCHIP to be at risk of losing coverage.
Children often lose coverage when renewals take place, sometimes for something as small as a letter lost in the mail. We know, and studies show, that when children lose coverage, they are more likely to have unmet health care needs that interfere with their success in school.
As we near the end of a global pandemic, amid significant increases in grocery and gasoline prices, disrupting access to care for even short periods of time could have serious repercussions for financial security and bottom lines. long-term health of Kentucky’s working families. As our Commonwealth looks toward the end of the PHE, the proposed changes in House Bill 7 in the state legislature only further jeopardize the health and economic security of thousands of Kentucky families. , creating additional barriers for eligible Kentucky children and families who need assistance accessing medications. and food.
When health problems arise in families who are uninsured or underinsured, they often face financial problems due to large medical bills or stop seeking treatment altogether. And we must never forget that accidents happen and children get sick, so another edge of the same sword includes the high cost of uncompensated care for our hospitals and providers when uninsured Kentucky residents, including children, seek the urgent or emergency care they need.
Collaboration and careful preparation will be critical to this transition. We urge Kentucky leaders, from the Governor’s Office to the Cabinet of Health and Family Services to our state Legislature, to take the time to get this right and make sure no child is left uninsured. As states begin to resume renewal operations, we urge them to consider incorporating the following strategies into their actions to process renewals effectively and keep children covered:
• Eliminate unnecessary bureaucratic procedures of the recertification process that could lead to eligible families stumbling or missing the deadline.
• Proactively update contact information for parents, or grandparents and other guardians.
• Provide clear information about the renewal process in plain language.
• Increase customer service capacity by any means necessary to meet the anticipated volume and increased need for assistance.
• Pause unenrollment if the state cannot keep up with fluctuations in increased demand for help.
• Take additional and deliberate steps to monitor children and families at risk of losing coverage due to lack of information.
Kentucky Voices for Health continues to be an active and ready partner in the effort to keep Kentucky children covered. We know that there is strength in numbers and we are committed to working together to ensure that all children have access to the care they need and the opportunity to lead a healthy life.
Kelly Taulbee is director of communications and development for Kentucky Voices for Health.