About 4.3 million children did not have health insurance last year, a figure that grew as the poverty rate declined, according to new reports from the U.S. Census Bureau.
The AAP and other children’s health and medical groups joined together Tuesday calling for lawmakers to take action.
“For these kids, no coverage often means no care,” the group said in a joint statement. “No care means fewer preventive screenings to catch conditions before they become severe and costly. No care means more missed school and work days for parents. It means no access to affordable dental coverage, or prenatal services for pregnant mothers. We can do better, and we must.”
Last year, 5.5% of children were uninsured, up from 5% the previous year, according to the Census Bureau. While private insurance coverage stayed flat, rates of children enrolled in Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) dropped from 36.5% to 35.3%.
“The Census Bureau data showing an increase in the proportion of uninsured children is disturbing,” said AAP President Kyle E. Yasuda, M.D., FAAP. “This is a warning signal that the AAP finds concerning, particularly with fewer children enrolled in Medicaid and CHIP.”
The highest rates of uninsured children were in the South at 7.7%. Hispanic children were the largest uninsured racial group at 8.7%, up from 7.7% the year before. Uninsured rates for white, black and Asian children were between 4.1% and 4.6%.
“Make no mistake: the Administration’s actions — such as harmful policies that discourage immigrant families from enrolling in Medicaid and CHIP and adding more red-tape to Medicaid — have contributed to this erosion of children’s coverage,” the AAP and its partners said. “There are signs that coverage losses for children will continue to get worse.”
States that expanded Medicaid eligibility saw greater declines in coverage for children than other states. Across all ages, 8.5% of people were uninsured, up from 7.9%, marking the first increase since 2009.
“Using our principles as a guide, Congress and the Administration should take action to make it easier and more affordable for children and families to enroll — and stay enrolled — in coverage that meets their needs,” the joint statement said. “This is a problem we must solve before it becomes a crisis.”
Census reports also looked at income and poverty rates. Following three consecutive annual increases, the median household income stayed relatively steady at $63,179 last year.
About 11.9 million children lived in poverty in 2018, defined as a family with two adults and two children with an annual income below $25,465. The rate dropped from 17.4% to 16.2% but remained higher than rates for adults.
About 11.8% of people across all ages lived below the poverty line, compared to 12.3% in 2017. It is the fourth consecutive year the poverty rate improved.
Across all ages, poverty rates were highest for blacks (20.8%), followed by Hispanics (17.6%), Asians (10.1%) and non-Hispanic whites (8.1%)
Addressing poverty is a top priority for the Academy. The AAP policy Poverty and Child Health in the United Statescalls for improving access to early childhood education and increasing parents’ income by strengthening programs like the earned income tax credit, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, housing subsidies and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children.