Covering Parents is Good For Kids: 4.9 Million Uninsured Stand to Gain Coverage

As any parent who has faced the challenge of being sick and trying to fulfill his or her parenting duties will tell you – the well-being of children is highly dependent on the well-being of their parents.   My bottomline is covering parents is good for kids.

While we’ve made great strides in bringing down the uninsured rate for children in the past decade, the uninsured rate for parents and other adults has soared as employers dropped health plans, insurers went unchecked in charging higher premiums and many adults lost their coverage when they became ill or lost a job.  That’s why the Affordable Care Act’s extension of cost-effective Medicaid coverage to more uninsured adults is so essential.

Together with researchers at the Urban Institute, my colleagues Martha Heberlein, Tara Mancini and I have pulled together a first-look at how important this provision will be to the 4.9 million uninsured parents who stand to gain Medicaid coverage through the Affordable Care Act.

Over the years, we have interviewed many families whose children have been able to grow and thrive thanks to the successful Medicaid/CHIP programs in their states.  Most of those parents said they wished they could find affordable coverage for themselves but were just thankful to get their kids covered.  One of those parents who lost his coverage when he lost his job told our researcher “As long as the kids are covered, we’ll be all right” ended up passing away prematurely only a few years later.  We don’t know whether or not he eventually found health insurance, but even going for a short period without coverage can jeopardize one’s health.

As a parent myself, that story struck home.  How can our kids be all right if their parents don’t have a chance to secure reasonably priced health insurance that won’t disappear if they lose a job or get sick?

Thanks to the ACA, about 4.7 million parents will have an opportunity to join their children who are already eligible for Medicaid/CHIP coverage.  Among this group of parents:

* Almost 60 percent of the uninsured parents live in ten states (Texas, California, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Ohio). More than a quarter (26.7 percent) live in California and Texas.

* The majority of these parents work (54 percent), with more working full-time (31 percent), than part time (23 percent).

* Forty-seven percent of these parents are white, 29 percent are Hispanic, and 17 percent are African American

Extending coverage to these parents will be a good value to states. Research has shown that low-income, uninsured adults are comparatively healthy, suggesting these parents may be relatively inexpensive to cover.   Connecting them with cost-effective Medicaid coverage will help them stay healthy and avoid expensive emergency room visits.

The Affordable Care Act provides us with an historic opportunity to cover the whole family.  In my opinion, this is long overdue.

[For more information about how covering parents helps children, read Say Ahhh! blog series.]

Joan Alker is the Executive Director of the Center for Children and Families and a Research Professor at the Georgetown McCourt School of Public Policy.