By Steven Lopez, Senior Health Policy Analyst, NCLR
Last week, President Obama signed into law H.R.2, the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015, bipartisan legislation that reauthorizes funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), among other things. Since its creation in 1997, CHIP has played a critical role in reducing the number of uninsured children nationwide. According to a Government Accountability Office report, since CHIP began, the percentage of uninsured children has decreased by half, from 13.9 percent in 1997 to 6.6 percent in the first three months of 2014.The same report notes that when compared to uninsured children, CHIP enrollees had better access to care, including preventive care, and had comparable access to care when compared to children with private insurance.
NCLR has been a longstanding advocate of quality, affordable, and accessible health coverage for all and we recognize that by investing in programs like CHIP, we are making a critical investment in the future of the country. CHIP has been a particularly important lifeline for Hispanic children, who are more likely to be covered by the program than by private insurance. A recent evaluation of CHIP highlighted that in the 10 states examined, more than half of the children enrolled were Hispanic. But given today’s climate, just because a program is working doesn’t mean it will avoid being the centerpiece of a political showdown. Luckily, Congress decided that protecting our children’s health and well-being is something that we can all agree upon. And while we would have liked to have seen CHIP extended for four years instead of two, maintaining funding for a program that has been an essential coverage pathway for so many children, particularly Latino children, is certainly a win.
However, the work is not done. Now that we know the program’s funding is secure, we need to ensure those who are eligible are enrolled. Latino children continue to be disproportionately uninsured. In fact, they are 1.5 times more likely to be uninsured compared to all children. However, programs such as CHIP present an opportunity to further reduce this disparity. According to a report NCLR released last fall with Georgetown University, 66.1 percent of uninsured Hispanic children in the United States—or 1.3 million Hispanic children—were eligible for Medicaid or CHIP but not enrolled in 2012. Outreach to eligible families, particularly Latinos, is critical to increasing awareness of CHIP, its benefits, and the fact that unlike the ACA open enrollment period, enrollment in programs like CHIP and Medicaid occurs throughout the year.
We applaud Congress for exemplifying how to solve problems by working together and President Obama for acting swiftly to sign the bill into law. Now let’s make sure that every child not only has the opportunity for coverage, but is enrolled. To learn more about coverage opportunities in your state, go to InsureKidsNow.gov or call 1-877-Kids-Now.