How Could Executive Action on Parents Reduce the Number of Uninsured Citizen Kids?

Here’s something that most news stories on President Obama’s Executive Order probably are not touching on — protecting several million parents from deportation is likely to reduce the number of uninsured kids – the vast majority of them citizens.

As child health experts, we have pointed out for years that reducing the number of uninsured children requires targeted action that lowers barriers to enrollment in Medicaid and CHIP. And we have consistently highlighted “mixed status” families as a group that needs more attention. Mixed status families are precisely those targeted by the President’s Executive Order – those with citizen children and undocumented parents.

Our recent analysis on the high rates of uninsurance among Hispanic children by CCF’s Sonya Schwartz and Alisa Chester highlighted that of two million uninsured Hispanic children, an estimated two-thirds or 1.3 million children are eligible for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Programs but unenrolled. And, while this is the single largest group there are additional citizen children of other races and ethnicities in similar situations. By removing the threat of deportation, the Executive Order effectively reduces a barrier to coverage for children who are eligible for Medicaid or CHIP coverage but unenrolled. Parents supported by relief from deportation will be less afraid of approaching government and be more likely to sign up for health coverage for their children.

In addition to improved health coverage rates, children will benefit in other ways. Children being raised by undocumented immigrant parents live with constant anxiety about whether their family can stay together in the future. A recent study showed that undocumented parents report high levels of fear and stress-related disorders in their children. Children of undocumented parents also suffer poorer health and lower use of health care than children of citizens and finish fewer years of school.

When families don’t have to live in fear of family separation, the wellbeing of children and the whole family should improve.   By removing one more barrier standing between children and affordable health coverage, this development could help connect more uninsured children with coverage. Investing in our children today is not only the right thing to do, it benefits the U.S. by creating a stronger workforce for tomorrow.

Editor’s Note: CCF’s resident expert on immigrant issues, Sonya Schwartz, will share her insights on the Executive Order once further details are available.

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.