It’s Time to Focus on the Future of Children’s Health Coverage

With the bad news that the nation’s uninsured rate for children went in the wrong direction for the first time in nearly a decade, it’s time for kid’s health to get back to the top of the agenda for policymakers. Here at CCF, we’re reinvigorating a project we started a few years ago that aims to develop federal and state policy ideas that will promote child and family health. The project is called the Future of Children’s Health Coverage and is a series of issue briefs on a variety of topics.

When we started this project in June of 2016, the future looked brighter for America’s children. The Affordable Care Act, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program had worked together to achieve historic progress in reducing the number of uninsured children. Now, even with an improving economy and low unemployment, our nation has slipped backwards on children’s health coverage. Without serious efforts to get back on track, the decline in children’s health coverage is likely to get worse.

Coverage is the sine qua non for kids, but of course coverage is not enough. Efforts must be made to ensure that children have access to high quality affordable care that addresses their developmental needs and looks at their progress through a whole family lens. Medicaid is the most important vehicle for addressing the future of children’s health given its outsized role in covering more than one in three children nationwide. Medicaid must be strengthened and supported rather than cut or undermined or progress for children won’t happen.

We recently released two new briefs in the Future of Children’s Health Coverage series:

  • A brief by Edwin Park offered insights on how strengthening the Medicaid Drug Rebate Program at both the federal and state levels would help state Medicaid programs better address their rising prescription drug costs. This, in turn, would ensure continued access to needed prescription drugs for tens of millions of low-income children, families, people with disabilities and other beneficiaries who rely on Medicaid today. And focusing on prescription drugs for cost reduction is a win-win rather than other harmful policies that some states are contemplating to reduce Medicaid spending.
  • A report by Elisabeth Wright Burak recommended policies to improve young children’s healthy development. Nearly half of all children under age six are covered by Medicaid so measuring and ensuring that young children receive all medically necessary care through Medicaid’s pediatric benefit (EPSDT) is critical to promoting healthy development. The report also points out the importance of caregivers and educators in a child’s life and makes recommendations on how to ensure they are getting the health care they need to fulfill those important responsibilities. It also outlines ways to maintain continuous, consistent health coverage for children and families, support research-based interventions that meet the developmental needs of young children, and invest in pediatric care innovation.

Previous briefs in the Future of Children’s Health Coverage series covered needed improvements to pediatric dental coverage and outlined ways to strengthen Marketplace coverage to better serve children’s needs.

We hope that you will take the time to check out the briefs and share them with policymakers and influencers who can make a difference. We welcome your thoughts and suggestions on other topics we should explore in the future as we work together toward a day when all children and their families have access to high quality affordable health care.

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.