New Census Data Reveal Troubling Signs for Children’s Health Coverage

New Census Data Reveal Troubling Signs for Children's Health Coverage

Last week, the Census Bureau partially released the Annual Social and Economic Supplement (ASEC) of the 2017 Current Population Survey (CPS) and the 2017 American Community Survey (ACS) health insurance data. In the past we have celebrated dramatic gains in health coverage for children as the share of uninsured children continued to decline. But this year’s data is highly troubling as it shows that the nation is stalling or even losing ground on children’s coverage.

The CPS estimates found no change in the uninsured rate among children under age 19 in 2017 — remaining at 5.4 percent – but the American Community Survey, which has a larger sample size, show a statistically significant increase of 0.3 percentage points, from 4.7 to 5.0 percent between 2016 and 2017. This was the first increase in the uninsured rate among children since 2008, the first year for which comparable ACS health insurance data has been collected.  Additionally, according to the ACS, the number of uninsured children increased by 300,000 between 2016 and 2017, bringing up the total number of uninsured children in the country to approximately 3.9 million.  

In our preliminary analysis of the data, we found that 12 states (AK, AZ, FL, GA, IN, NV, ND, OK, SD, TX, UT, and WY) have a statistically significantly higher uninsured rate for children than the national uninsured rate. Nine states (FL, GA, MA, OH, SC, SD, TN, TX and UT) experienced a statistically significant increase in the child uninsured rate from 2016 to 2017. Only the District of Columbia experienced a significant decrease in the child uninsured rate from 2016 to 2017.

Progress on health insurance coverage has stalled not only with children, but with all Americans. The uninsured rate for the total population remained at 8.8 percent in 2016 and 2017 under the CPS. Moreover, the gap in uninsured rates between states that have expanded Medicaid and those that have not continues to widen – the overall uninsured rate in non-expansion states grew by 0.7 percentage points, while it remained steady in expansion states, under the CPS — as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains.

More data will be released on October 18th, 2018 including the 2017 American Community Survey Public Use Microdata Sample and the 2017 supplemental estimates.

For more information on children’s coverage, including state-level analyses, stay tuned for our annual 50 state report due October 2018. We will take a closer look at the nation’s remaining uninsured children to develop a picture of who they are and where they live. Reports from previous years may be found here.

NOTE: The 2017 ACS data includes changes to multiple health insurance tables that update the “age categories” for children: the age group for children now encompasses children under age 19, rather than under age 18 as in past years. Per the Census Bureau, the change to the age group was instituted to “better align with the current health insurance landscape.”

Rate of Uninsured Children, 2008-17

Olivia Pham
Olivia Pham is a Research Associate at the Georgetown University McCourt School of Public Policy’s Center for Children and Families

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