Want kids to get preventive health care? Make sure their parents have health coverage.

If we’ve learned anything this year, it’s that we can’t take success covering children for granted. A lapse in CHIP funding (ahem!) or cuts to Medicaid could easily put our nation back in a place where rates of uninsured kids reverse course. But even as we work to keep the coverage we have, we also want it to be put to use—for kids to get the care they need.

Turns out, we can’t create policy for children in isolation – they live in families! With parents! (I kid, but long time Say Ahhh! readers know well that we at CCF take the “and Families” part of our name very seriously.) A new Pediatrics study reiterates why: When parents have Medicaid coverage, their children are more likely to get to their regular checkups.

We often talk about the ways parent coverage matters for kids, through the welcome mat effect supporting the parent-child relationships that are critical to children’s healthy development. This study adds to the evidence of its value.

The study looked at well-child visits for children and their relationship with state Medicaid eligibility expansions for parents between 2001 and 2013 (note this was before the ACA’s optional expansion). Children whose parents are enrolled in Medicaid are 29 percent more likely to go to well-child check-ups. And increases in Medicaid eligibility for parents were associated with increased rates of well-child visit for their children. Specifically, authors found that a 10-point increase in a state’s adult Medicaid eligibility threshold, based on the federal poverty level, was associated with a 0.27 percentage-point increase in the probability that low-income children received an annual well-child visit.

So why is this the case? Authors suggest increased coverage for parents helps them better navigate the health system for themselves, and, in turn, their children. And since coverage reduces financial burdens for families, they likely have one less barrier to getting to care, such as finding transportation, taking time off of work.

Remember, this study examined Medicaid parent coverage expansion prior to ACA implementation. And now 18 states have yet to expand Medicaid to parents, caregivers and others adults—just think of the impact expansion in remaining states would have on children’s health. Studies like this add to the urgency for states to expand Medicaid to ensure every family member can get the health care they need. The whole family wins when every member has coverage – especially kids.

Elisabeth Wright Burak
Elisabeth Wright Burak is a Senior Fellow at the Center for Children and Families