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Most Uninsured Children Have a Parent Who Works

Many families earn too much to get aid but too little to buy coverage, a report says.

September 29, 2006|Moises Mendoza | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — A majority of the 9 million children in the United States who lack health insurance live in two-parent families in which at least one parent is working, according to a report released Thursday by a healthcare advocacy group.

In many of these families, one parent or both either have jobs that do not offer insurance or do not make enough to afford the coverage offered by their employers, the report by Families USA found.

These children are much less likely to get regular medical or dental care and are five times as likely to have unmet healthcare needs as insured children, said the report, which was prepared for the Campaign for Children's Health Care, a group that is seeking comprehensive health insurance coverage for all children.

California has more than 1.3 million uninsured children, the report said, more than any other state.

They include 16-year-old Michael Duckworth of Mi-Wuk Village, near Yosemite National Park, who was diagnosed with grand mal seizures in January. Because his family has no health insurance, his parents can't afford to take him to a neurologist until late this year, when a plan at his father's new job takes effect.

"It's a very scary time right now," said his mother, Shannon.

In most states, families with incomes of as much as twice the federal poverty level -- for a family of three, that would be $33,200 -- can enroll their children in the State Children's Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP, a federal and state government-sponsored plan to aid people who make too much to qualify for Medicare.

California allows enrollment of children whose families make as much as 250% of the poverty level, or $41,500 for a family of three. The vast majority of the state's uninsured children are eligible for the program.

But according to the report, financial constraints are affecting the ability of states to ensure that all eligible children are enrolled. To save money, the report said, some states have frozen their SCHIP plans, preventing eligible children from being enrolled.

SCHIP must be reauthorized by Congress next year, and it faces a funding shortfall of nearly $1 billion in fiscal 2007.

Two-thirds of uninsured children qualify for some form of government-sponsored insurance program, the report said, but some families are not aware of the options. And complex regulations often discourage people from signing up, said Andy Schneider, a senior advisor at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which advocates for the poor.

Other families such as the Duckworths, with incomes too large to qualify for government insurance but too small to make private coverage affordable, fall through the cracks.

The uninsured sometimes put off seeing a physician for months or years, which can lead to higher healthcare costs later on.

Some activists and members of Congress say that if Democrats win a congressional majority in the November election, they will push harder for universal healthcare coverage.

"I think you're seeing some real pressure building as fewer and fewer people are getting employment-based benefits," said Rep. Pete Stark (D-Fremont), who has introduced legislation to provide health insurance to all children by 2012. "I'm sensing a strong feeling throughout the country that we need to get healthcare for all."

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