WASHINGTON – More than 9 million children in the United States have no health insurance coverage,even though a third has at least one parent with health insurance,a new study says.
While debates on the State Children's Health Insurance Program have focused on expanding coverage to the low-income parents of children in the program,little is known about families in the opposite situation – when at least one parent has insurance but their children aren't covered year round.
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association this month explored the economic and demographic factors that increase the likelihood a family will have parent-only health insurance. The results,as well as recommendations,were presented at the National Press Club Tuesday.
“Sickness doesn't strike the month you have coverage,and go away the month that you don't,” said Dr. Jennifer DeVoe of the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland,Ore. “We need to expand the SCHIP to provide relief for low- and middle- income families.”
Using data collected from 2002 to 2005,DeVoe and fellow researchers found about 4 percent of children in the United States lacked continuous health coverage but had at least one insured parent. Of the approximately 3 million children in this situation,more than a third were without coverage the entire year.
They were more likely to come from low- and middle-income households in which the parents did not complete high school. Hispanic ethnicity,single-parent households and living in the South or West also increased the likelihood a family would have parent-only health coverage.
In addition to these characteristics,DeVoe said limits on private insurance coverage were a significant factor explaining why families are in this situation.
“They are buying insurance,but this health insurance is not covering their kids,” she said.
Insuring children can triple a parent's cost of insurance,DeVoe said.
Although SCHIP is geared toward low-income families,DeVoe said some states,such as Oregon,set relatively low income levels for eligibility. This means some families make too much money to qualify for public health coverage but cannot afford private insurance for the whole family.
“The worker may be automatically offered insurance at a low cost,but the cost of insuring the family is prohibitive,” she said.
As for why there would be lapses in a child's coverage,press officer Christine Decker said children whose parents switch jobs frequently might get coverage only at crucial times of the year,such as the months when school physicals and immunizations are required.
DeVoe said families she interviewed as part of the study wished they could transfer their benefits to their children,but the system doesn't work that way.
“I want to be really clear that the parents are making a very hard choice,” she said. DeVoe played excerpts from her interviews,in which Oregon mothers discussed how health insurance,if they had it for their children,would bring them peace of mind.
One of the mothers described the anxiety of having a child with a fever of 104 degrees and hoping it would go down with cool baths and tea.
“We worked it out. But I wish I would have been able to have the money to do that at the time,” the mother said in the recording. “When it comes to your health,how can you say no to a kid?”
DeVoe ended her presentation with a graph showing how the average price of family health insurance is expected to grow.
“In 2025,the average family premium will cost as much as what the family is making. This is unsustainable,” she said. “These lines are going to cross,so we really,really need to roll up our sleeves and find a solution.”