Medicaid is Critical for Young Children and Their Parents – Time to Tackle Real Barriers to Work Like Affordable Child Care

Last month, I blogged about a helpful new 50-state report by our friends at the Urban Institute that breaks down coverage for children 3 and under and their parents. This week they released an update to this report with 2016 data and even looked at metro area coverage for young children.  

The upshot? Again, nearly half (49%) of all children age 3 and under rely on Medicaid or CHIP, along with one-fifth of their parents. Uninsured parents of young children in states that did not expand Medicaid were twice as likely to be uninsured as those living in expansion states. The findings underscore what a positive impact Medicaid expansion has had for parents of young children and serves as a reminder that many parents living in non-expansion states have been left behind.

The states with the highest uninsured rate for parents of children age 3 and under are: Texas (27.8%), Oklahoma (20%), and Georgia (20.6%). And as we know well from research, covering parents helps kids: their coverage, health and well-being, and financial stability. A new study even links Medicaid expansion states with greater decreases in infant mortality rates.

Despite the value and potential of Medicaid for young children and their parents, federal and state efforts to roll back coverage continue under the guise of putting more people to work. States are increasingly seeking to falsely tie Medicaid coverage for parents and other adults to eligibility conditions that would erect new barriers to coverage, like work requirements or lockouts for failure to pay premiums or renew coverage on time. And this is not just for Medicaid expansion groups– even states like Kansas and Mississippi that haven’t expanded Medicaid are seeking to put these barriers in place for their poorest parents.

Proponents argue that conditioning Medicaid coverage on these new litmus tests create incentives to work and advance personal responsibility. We argue that health coverage helps people stay healthy, which is critical to getting and staying employed. Not to mention, most non-disabled adult Medicaid recipients are already working. My colleague Andy Schneider blogged last month on how these proposals weaponize paperwork with an inherent agenda to kick folks off of coverage.

If policymakers are serious about helping parents and other adults find and keep meaningful jobs, they should consider removing rather than putting up barriers between people and the services they need to work. Instead of creating barriers to Medicaid coverage, they should focus on reducing barriers to work, like the high cost of child care. That said, it’s encouraging to see efforts to increase funding for the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) gaining traction for budget discussions. That’s a real barrier to work that should be addressed.  

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