New report: Nearly 11,000 children in Louisiana lost their health insurance last year
BATON ROUGE - Amid the novel coronaviurs health crisis, Louisiana's medical experts are encouraging parents to not only take measures to protect their families from COVID-19 but to enter flu season with plans to vaccinate their children as quickly as possible.
But this is easier said than done when parents can't afford to purchase health insurance to cover the cost of their children's medical expenses, and as of 2019 according to The Advocate, an alarming number of Louisiana's families fall into this category.
Nearly 11,000 children in Louisiana lost their health insurance last year, marking the largest single-year drop in over a decade and an alarming reversal of years of progress getting kids covered.
An analysis of U.S. Census data by the Louisiana Budget Project reveals that roughly 50,000 children, or 4.4% of children in the state, were uninsured in the state in 2019, in comparison to the 39,000 children who lacked health insurance in 2018.
These statistics aren't an isolated occurrence limited to Louisiana, instead, The Advocate reports the alarming figures reflect a nationwide trend that experts fear will worsen as an increasing number of individuals are laid off during the COVID-shaken economy.
“This reflected 2019, which was a year in which we had record low unemployment and a decade of strong economic growth,” said Stacey Roussel, policy director for the Louisiana Budget Project and author of the report. “Still, we were seeing the uninsured rate for children rising across the country as well as here in Louisiana."
"It also means a record increase in the number of families without insurance for their children as we were going into the largest public health emergency we’ve seen in our generation," she added.
Researchers and medical experts agree that to stay healthy, children require age-appropriate immunizations, regular preventive care, and professional treatment for acute illnesses and injuries.
According to a blog post by Dr. Michelle Flecheas, a pediatrician with Our Lady of the Lake, "Back-to-school is the time of year when parents take kids to the doctor for checkups and for scheduled vaccines. This year is no different: staying on schedule with vaccines is critically important so your child doesn’t contract easily preventable diseases."
So, medical care for children remains a priority, and the exact reason for the recent lack of access to healthcare among Louisiana's children remains unknown.
The Advocate reports that in 2016, Louisiana expanded Medicaid to include those making up to 138% of the federal poverty level, or about $36,000 for a family of four as of 2020. By April 2019, the expansion provided coverage to more than 500,000 additional people.
However, in May of last year, Medicaid enrollment decreased after wage checks that automatically kicked off people appearing to make too much money to qualify, dropping by about 50,000 enrollees by the of 2019. That said, in January, enrollment numbers say another increase, and 550,000 people were covered by the expansion as of Sept. 2020.
Some doctors suggest the decline in insured patients may be the result of complicated paperwork and threats to the Affordable Care Act.
A number of patients eligible for Medicaid or LaCHIP, the state's health insurance program for low- and moderate-income families, are not enrolled even though they qualify.
Some parents, struggling to learn English or burdened by financial issues, don't feel they have the means to complete the rigorous amounts of necessary paperwork.
Historically, Louisiana has had better rates of insurance among children than the U.S. average, The Advocate reports, but with a one-year, 28% increase, the state has now regressed to the middle of the pack, ranking 22nd among all states, according to an October report from the Georgetown Center for Children and Families.
In 2016, the state ranked 17th.
Parishes with the highest increase were East Baton Rouge, Caddo, Bossier and Lafayette. Although low-income families suffered the biggest loss in coverage, the increase was not limited to age group or income.
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