More Children Insured as Poverty Rose

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Unemployment soared between 2008 and 2009, and the majority of states saw more of their citizens living in poverty, but the number of children with health insurance actually went up, according to U.S. Census Bureau data released Tuesday.

The rate of uninsured children dropped from 9.7 percent to 9 percent from 2008 to 2009, according to the bureau’s American Community Survey, which defines youth as through age 18. In real numbers, 517,669 fewer children were uninsured in 2009 than were uninsured in 2008, and 1.1 million more children had insurance.

It was a difficult year for families by almost any measure. Thirty-one states saw an increase in the number and percentage of people living in poverty between 2008 and 2009, according to the ACS. At the same time, the number of families with at least one unemployed parent skyrocketed from 6.1 million to 9.4 million.

“This increase suggests decreased access to private insurance for parents and children,” the bureau said in an issue brief. Indeed, the percentage of insured youth covered by private insurance decreased from 71.3 percent to 68 percent.

But there was a nearly identical increase – from 32.7 percent to 35.7 percent – in the number of insured youth who were covered by public insurance – either Medicaid or a State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).

The bureau suggests that the uptick in publicly-covered children is due to a confluence of children dropped from private care and two recent pieces of federal legislation. Changes to federal SCHIP funding that took effect in April 2009 included funds for states to conduct more outreach and enrollment. And the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, passed in 2009, helped states defray costs from enrolling new Medicaid recipients.

Massachusetts, which requires residents to own insurance and subsidizes or pays for care for people near the poverty line, had the lowest percentage of uninsured children: 1.5 percent. Nevada had the highest, at 18.4 percent.

Colorado, Arizona, Delaware and Utah were the only states to increase their number of insured youth by more than 2 percent, with Colorado actually rising by 3 percent.

The three states with the highest youth populations accounted for the largest numerical increase in insured children. California, Texas and Florida had a combined 390,000 more insured youth among their populations in 2009, accounting for more than one-third of the total increase nationwide.

Only two states experienced statistically significant decreases in the percentage of youth who were insured: Alaska (down 2.1 percent) and Minnesota (down .7 percent).

To read the Census Bureau’s brief on insurance coverage for youth, which includes state-by-state data, click here.