Covering Parents is Good for Kids: How Accepting the Medicaid Option Can Help Pennsylvania Kids

(Editor’s Note: This blog is based on testimony presented by the author before the Pennsylvania House of Representatives Human Services Committee today.)

By George Hoover, Pennsylvania Partnership for Kids

Pennsylvania has a strong history of providing health care coverage to children – a history that was built through bipartisan efforts and a commitment to “Cover All Kids.” Despite this work to make Pennsylvania a state of “universal coverage” for kids, we still have about 148,000 children in the commonwealth who lack health insurance.

To put it in some perspective, 148,000 children is roughly the enrollment of the school districts of Allentown, Bethlehem, Chambersburg, Erie, Harrisburg, Hazelton, Lancaster, Pittsburgh, Reading, Scranton, Wilkes-Barre and York combined.

In addition to Pennsylvania having 148,000 uninsured children, the Georgetown Center for Children and Families estimates there are about 274,000 uninsured Pennsylvania parents – and about 131,000 of those uninsured parents would qualify for Medicaid if Pennsylvania were to accept the Medicaid option offered by the Affordable Care Act.

Low-income, uninsured parents are three times more likely to have uninsured children than those parents who have insurance. Research shows that covering low-income parents increases health insurance enrollment among eligible children, thereby reducing the number of children who are uninsured. Studies also have found that covering parents makes it less likely that children will have disruptions in their own Medicaid coverage.

Simply put, expanding Medicaid to cover more low-income adults – a group that includes many parents – likely will result in more Pennsylvania children enrolling in health insurance coverage.

Parental coverage doesn’t just increase the likelihood that a child will be covered. It also appears to increase the likelihood that a child will get the preventive care and other health care services necessary to keep them healthy. Studies have found that insured children whose parents are insured are more likely to receive check-ups and other care, compared to insured children whose parents are uninsured. This means these children are more likely to get timely vaccinations, regular dental screenings and other medical services that can detect health-related issues early, which typically makes them not only easier to treat, but also less expensive to treat.

Conversely, a lack of insurance often means parents put off seeking help for children who may have physical or behavioral health care needs. This can lead to delayed diagnoses that leave children suffering in silence, especially when it comes to sometimes hard-to-detect behavioral health issues such as anxiety, autism or depression.

Additionally, providing Medicaid coverage to women between pregnancies can improve birth outcomes, which helps children get a healthy start in life. Continuing parents’ coverage between births to address obesity, hypertension, diabetes, asthma, smoking and other health issues can improve women’s overall health and help address the causes of early births and infant and maternal mortality. Ongoing coverage and care for women can reduce neonatal intensive care and other health care expenses for low birth weight infants, often covered by Medicaid.

Medicaid coverage also provides economic security that benefits entire families. Medicaid beneficiaries are 40 percent less likely to ignore other bills, or borrow money, in order to pay medical expenses As a result, parents with Medicaid coverage are less likely to forgo paying other necessary household expenses that are important to their children’s health and security.

All children need quality health care coverage. Extending Medicaid to low-income adults will help Pennsylvania achieve that goal.

[For more information on why covering parents is good for children, see CCF’s blog series and research paper.]