Story by Nadia Ramligan, Tennessee Public News Service
More than 80,000 Tennessee children were uninsured last year, and that drop is among the highest rates in the nation , according to a new report from the Georgetown Center for Children and Families.
Employer-sponsored coverage is increasingly unaffordable for many families, but Kinika Young – senior director of health policy and advocacy of the Tennessee Justice Center – said most kids are eligible for the federal Children’s Health Insurance Program or “CHIP.”
But Young said the federal government slashed budgets for outreach and enrollment assistance, leaving many parents either unaware of, or confused about, how to get kids covered.
“This report looks at 2016 to 2019, when we had a healthy economy and the lowest unemployment rates in decades,” said Young. “So the picture is likely much worse for 2020.”
The report said the Trump administration’s hostile rhetoric toward immigrants is another factor that left those families too afraid to sign up. It said around 726,000 children have lost health coverage nationwide since 2016 – and predicts the pandemic will continue the trend.
Joan Alker, executive director of the Georgetown Center for Children and Families, said the number of uninsured children has increased every year of the Trump administration. The largest jump was between 2018 and 2019.
“What’s so troubling is that, you know, we’ve had years and years of progress as a country, in a bipartisan way, to reduce the number of uninsured children,” said Alker. “And what we see now is, that trend has clearly turned around since President Trump took office. And we’re going backwards at an accelerating rate.”
Studies have shown children who are insured are more likely to stay on track for immunizations and receive preventive care. Young noted that during the pandemic, routine doctor and dentist visits are even more critical for spotting potential cases of abuse or neglect.
“Especially for kids who are not having interactions with teachers or other people outside the home at this time,” said Young. “Their only sort of connection to the outside world may be their doctor.”
She notes all Tennessee families enrolled in CoverKids and Tenncare are protected from being dis-enrolled during the COVID-19 crisis, as part of an executive order issued early this year by Gov. Bill Lee.