Maine is the only state in the country where the number of uninsured children has risen significantly over the past five years: from 4 percent of children in the state in 2010 to more than 6 percent — or about 16,000 children — in 2014. Which happens to be four years after Congress passed a measure aimed at offering all Americans more health insurance options.
What’s particularly disturbing is that Maine children who are actually still eligible for publicly funded insurance have been losing coverage when their parents’ benefits are cut off — in a tug of war that puts kids in the middle at the cost of their well-being. Their plight should spur the state to step up outreach and expand coverage so that all Maine children can get the care they need, when they need it.
The advantages of health care coverage are obvious. Compared to those who aren’t insured, people with insurance are more likely to have a family doctor. They also get more frequent checkups and other preventive services that keep chronic conditions under control and keep people out of the hospital or the ER.
But more than 28,000 Maine parents have lost MaineCare coverage since 2012, when eligibility standards were tightened to exclude those who earned between 100 percent and 200 percent of the federal poverty level. When the adults were cut off, children’s enrollment in MaineCare fell as well, according to the Maine Children’s Alliance — even though those children still qualified for coverage.
Children’s advocates trace the falloff to poor communication by the state Department of Health and Human Services. The agency has failed to make clear that children still can get MaineCare after their parents have lost coverage, Maine Children’s Alliance head Claire Berkowitz recently told the Maine Public Broadcasting Network.
The DHHS has even turned down the applications of families whose children met the MaineCare eligibility criteria, Emily Brostek, director of Consumers for Affordable Health Care, told MPBN.
The decline in the number of children with health coverage is an obvious wake-up call for the DHHS to improve communication with parents of uninsured children. The situation should also draw attention to the number of adults who should be getting publicly funded insurance but aren’t, since research has shown that extending coverage to adults makes it more likely that their children will be covered, too.
Maine children have become collateral casualties of their state’s war on welfare. Before more damage is done to their health and their future, it’s time for all concerned Mainers to demand change.