Decades of progress providing health coverage to more Latino children has begun to erode, with the number of uninsured Latino children climbing to 1.6 million and the uninsured rate growing from 7.7 to 8.1 percent between 2016 and 2018, according to a new report by UnidosUS and the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families.
This marks an alarming reversal after a decade in which the uninsured rate for Latino children – who make up one in four children in the United States — dropped by more than half and the health coverage gap between Latino children and all children narrowed by nearly 9 percentage points.
Trump Administration efforts to undermine health care programs, as well as policies and rhetoric targeting immigrant families, have made it more difficult for families to enroll their eligible children in public health coverage, the report states. Almost all Latino children are U.S. citizens (95 percent) but concerns about immigration status still present barriers to coverage.
“All children need health coverage – particularly at times like these,” said Kelly Whitener of Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families. “The only way to effectively respond to a pandemic is to ensure that everyone has access to health care and that we have a strong health care infrastructure. As most uninsured children are eligible for affordable health coverage through Medicaid or CHIP but not enrolled, we need to stop policies that undermine access to these programs and strengthen our commitment to helping all families overcome barriers to enrollment.”
According to the report, many states have failed to protect children from harmful policies or, even worse, added red tape to Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), making it even more difficult for children to access health coverage. Latino children living in states that failed to expand Medicaid were two-and-a-half times more likely to be uninsured than those in expansion states in 2018.
A February poll of Latino voters commissioned by UnidosUS found that healthcare is a top concern for the Latino community. “Healthcare is a top priority for Latino voters in November,” said Steven Lopez, Health Policy Project Manager for UnidosUS. “If candidates want to connect with the Latino electorate, they need to address the struggles the community is facing when it comes to coverage.”
From 2016 to 2018, the uninsured rate for Latino children increased across all income groups. Coverage loss was most pronounced for children in low- to moderate-income families. Despite higher employment rates for Latinos, health coverage remains out of reach for many low- and moderate-income working Latino families, especially in states with lower CHIP income eligibility levels, the report found.
“This administration’s policies of obstruction and its rhetoric of demonization endanger the health of an entire generation of Latino children,” said Lopez. “They are American citizens with the same rights as any other kids born here. If this administration will not change course, it’s up to states and localities to protect children by increasing access and removing barriers to coverage.”
California has the largest population of Latino children, followed by Texas. State leaders in California and Texas have taken very different approaches to how they run their Medicaid/CHIP programs, and those policies are reflected in how these two states have fared in meeting the health coverage needs of Latino children. Between 2016 and 2018, the number of uninsured Latino children in Texas increased by more than 12 percent while the number decreased by almost 11 percent in California.
“In Texas, we are impacted by the same anti-immigrant, anti-Medicaid policies coming from the national administration, but state decisions have made things even worse,” said Dr. Laura Guerra-Cardus, deputy director of the Children’s Defense Fund of Texas. She pointed to the fact that Texas has not expanded Medicaid and has put in place a series of mid-year eligibility reviews that are inaccurately kicking eligible children out of Medicaid.
“Policy decisions made by Texas leaders are undermining children’s access to health coverage at a time when we should be providing children with uninterrupted health coverage,” said Guerra-Cardus. “Now more than ever, it should be evident that we are all inextricably connected. The health and well-being of our neighbors matters and this absolutely includes the Latino community.”
California was the only state to see a significant decrease in the number and rate of uninsured Latino children between 2016 and 2018 and brought the uninsured rate down to 3.7 percent, well below the national average.
“Despite disturbing national trends, we are proud of California’s Health4All approach, whereby offering health coverage to all low-income children, regardless of immigration status, is the most effective strategy for ensuring Latinx children receive the care they need,” said Mayra E. Alvarez, president of The Children’s Partnership. “We are seeing the positive results of that message — a welcome mat for all. However, with federal threats like public charge at a time when staying healthy is a grave concern, we must ensure our Latinx families feel safe to stay enrolled.”