Kansas ranks last in making progress on children's health insurance

Kansas ranked last in the nation in making progress in insuring children, a new study says.

Nationally, the number of children without health insurance coverage decreased from 2008-2010.

But Kansas and Minnesota went in the opposite direction.

The two states had the highest percentage increase of uninsured children during that three-year period, according to the study conducted by the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute's Center for Children and Families.

Kansas' rate of uninsured children in 2010 was 8.2 percent, up from 7.4 percent in 2008. That represents an increase of uninsured children of 7,853 from 51,930 in 2008 to 59,783 in 2010.

Over the same period, even with more children living in poverty, the nationwide rate of uninsured children decreased from 9.3 percent to 8 percent, which meant there were nearly 1 million more children insured. Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia experienced a decrease in the uninsured rate of children.

The improvement was attributed to more children getting coverage through states' Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Programs.

So why did Kansas rank at the bottom?

Shannon Cotsoradis, president and chief executive officer of Kansas Action for Children, said Monday it was because Kansas' efforts to provide health care coverage for more children from low-income families were made later than most other states.

An expansion of eligibility and changes in procedures to make it easier to sign up for Medicaid and HealthWave were not fully implemented until 2010.

"We took some steps in the right direction," she said. "We are not seeing the fruits of those labors yet. We need to stay the course."

She added, “KAC has launched a statewide campaign to enroll more children in HealthWave, a program that provides quality, cost-effective health insurance to parents who can’t get or can’t afford private health insurance. Many kids in Kansas are eligible for HealthWave, but their parents may not know it. We aim to change that.”

Joan Aker, co-executive director of the Georgetown Center for Children and Families, said Kansas can learn from other states to reduce the rate of uninsured children.

"No matter where they live, families that are struggling to meet their children’s health care needs during perilous economic times should get the help they need. Overall, on a national level, these data highlight a rare piece of good news at a challenging time for children – poverty has gone up, but across the county more kids are insured," Aker said.

Because of high unemployment rates and increasing cost of private insurance, more families have applied for coverage under Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Programs. President Barack Obama signed an extension of CHIP and earmarked $87 billion to the states in economic stimulus to help pay for Medicaid.

By Scott Rothschild

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