One In Eight Texas Kids Lack Health Insurance

Texas still ranks at the top when it comes to the number of children without health insurance. According to a new study, the number of uninsured children recently dropped by two percent, but Texas kids are still more likely to be uninsured than the national average.

In Texas, one in eight children have no health insurance, according to the study from Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families.

That’s more than 800,000 children.

Joan Alker, the Center’s director, says it’s unfortunate because most of those kids are probably eligible to be covered by Medicaid or a related government plan, the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

“It’s not that their parents don’t want to sign up their children for coverage, it’s that a lot of them are unaware that their children are eligible.”

Alker says parents frequently learn about the programs during periods of aggressive outreach on health issues, like what’s going on now for the Affordable Care Act.

She says states that are opting to expand Medicaid for adults under that law will see benefits for children’s coverage too.

“So in states that go ahead and accept the federal money to expand Medicaid to cover parents and other adults, we know we’re going to see a reduction of uninsured children in the bargain, and that’s what we like to call the ‘welcome mat effect.’ And we’re seeing that happen already in the states today that are going ahead and doing the Medicaid expansion.” 

But because Texas is not expanding Medicaid for adults under the law, she worries that low-income parents here may still mistakenly assume their children aren’t eligible for coverage either.

Among counties nationwide, Harris County actually has the second highest number of uninsured kids, after Los Angeles County.

One reason may be demographic: the study found that Hispanic children are more likely to be uninsured.

Alker says their parents may be wary of government programs or more likely to have jobs that don’t offer health benefits.

But she says all of us are affected when kids go without coverage.

“We know that when you have childhood conditions like asthma that go untreated, that they get far worse and in fact become far more expensive for a healthcare system to deal with. So we need to keep an eye on this, this is critical for children so they can go to school ready to learn and they can grow up to be the productive workers our economy needs for tomorrow.”

To tackle the problem, Alker says Texas should opt-in to the Medicaid expansion.

But even if Texas doesn’t, the state could help by eliminating other bureaucratic hurdles, like a three-month waiting period for the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

She says paperwork requirements for parents to keep their kids enrolled every year could also be streamlined.  

State health officials did not respond to a request for comment before deadline.

Bio photo of Carrie Feibel

Carrie Feibel

Health & Science Reporter

Carrie Feibel is KUHF's health and science reporter. She comes to Houston Public Radio after ten years as a print reporter...