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Is National Rhetoric Behind Rise in Uninsured Kids?

Illinois News Connection

New data out today show the number of uninsured children in Illinois rose about 8 percent last year, and advocates said they're worried that federal policies could thwart future progress.
Researchers with the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families found for the first time in a decade, the number of children without health coverage in the U.S. has gone up, with 5 percent of kids now uninsured.

In Illinois, it's almost 3 percent. Kathy Waligora, interim executive director of EverThrive Illinois, contends that with an improving economy and low unemployment, the backslide is the result of messages at the national level.

"The rhetoric coming from the Trump administration has left people confused about whether or not they can get insured," Waligora said. "It has left people confused about whether or not they can afford insurance for themselves or their families. And it has scared immigrants that are fearful that enrolling in benefits could have a negative impact on their ability to remain in the country."

Enrollment in a number of public assistance programs already is dropping, because the Trump administration has proposed changes to the "public charge" rules that make the use of certain programs count against legal immigrants when they apply for citizenship. The administration says migrants must be able to support themselves financially.

Joan Alker, report co-author and Georgetown Center executive director, is also convinced that constant attacks on the Affordable Care Act, the move to cut Medicaid and the delay in reauthorizing CHIP all contributed to public unease about signing up.

"The fact that our nation is going backwards on kids' health coverage is very troubling," Alker stressed. "And the fact that all 50 states failed to make progress, even those with the best of intentions, means they really couldn't withstand these strong, national currents to protect their kids from losing coverage."

Waligora added that when children's health needs are met, their parents miss fewer days of work, kids are better able to learn in school and are better equipped to make positive contributions as adults. She implored state leaders to not wait for action at the federal level.

"We know that the climate at the federal level is not going to change right now," she said. "If Illinois does nothing, the uninsured rate for kids will likely continue to climb. So, it's imperative that the state take action in the coming months, in the coming year, to protect kids' health."

Illinois fell in the report from seventh to tenth nationally for the lowest number of uninsured children, which now stands at 89,000 in the state.