Oregon Experiences Largest Decline in Uninsured Children
Since October, Cover Oregon has been toiling through technological hiccups to make sure more Oregonians have affordable and quality health insurance. Behind the scenes, even before the Affordable Care Act became law, efforts to have more children covered by health insurance have been quietly successful, especially in Oregon.
According to a new report, "For Kids' Sake: State-Level Trends in Children's Health Insurance - A State-by-State Analysis," the percentage of uninsured children in the U.S. dropped from 9.7 percent in 2008 to 7.5 percent in 2012. The report, conducted by researchers at the University of Minnesota's School of Public Health's State Health Access Data Assistance Center and funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, also documents recent coverage trends at the state level using data from 2008 through 2012, the most recent year available.
Oregon experienced the largest decline in uninsured children; the rate dropped more than 6 percentage points and is 1.5 percent lower than the national average. Other states with large declines were Florida, Delaware, Mississippi and South Dakota.
One of the reasons Oregon made such significant progress was its expansion of coverage for children, according to Julie Sonier, a researcher on the study and deputy director at the State Health Access Data Assistance Center at the University of Minnesota.
“This expansion was significant in contributing to Oregon’s improvement and to it (Oregon) having the largest decline (in uninsured children),” Sonier said.
Oregon faced a large decline in private coverage (from 68.2 percent in 2008 to 60.5 percent in 2012), however that decline was more than offset by an increase in public coverage (from 19.4 percent in 2008 to 33.6 percent in 2012).
“We attribute the decline (in uninsured children) directly to the Healthy Kids program,” said Judy Mohr-Peterson, state Medicaid Director.
Oregon’s Healthy Kids program, which is part of the Oregon Health Plan, was created in 2009 to make sure children have affordable, high-quality health insurance. Through Healthy Kids, children and teens receive preventative care, medical, dental and vision care, prescription coverage, as well as mental health and chemical dependency services.
“We focused on getting children insured by using both broad-based outreach efforts as well as targeted ones,” Mohr-Peterson explained. “Our efforts working with schools and community agencies really made a difference.”
According to Sonier, in addition to increased outreach, states made intensive efforts to streamline their application and renewal processes. For example, Oregon used Express Lane Eligibility for children in families who receive benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and those who receive free or reduced school lunches.
The report also analyzed trends by income and by race/ethnicity. In Oregon, the number of low-income children who were uninsured went from 20.2 percent in 2008 to 6.4 percent in 2012. The number of Hispanic children who were uninsured also dropped by more than 10 percent (19.9% in 2008 to 8.5% in 2012).
Originally, Healthy Kids intended to have 95 percent of all children in Oregon insured. As of 2012, they’d made it to 94 percent.
“We are very close to our goal,” Mohr-Peterson said. “The Affordable Care Act will be helpful in getting us the rest of the way there.”
The Affordable Care Act will help more children become covered through the premium tax credits through the health insurance exchanges. Sonier said. Also, children who were eligible, but not enrolled in programs like Healthy Kids, could gain coverage as their parents become eligible and sign up for public coverage.
“We think the Affordable Care Act is likely to result in more gains in the next few years,” Sonier said.
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Joanne can be reached at [email protected].