Uninsured Tenn. children increases by 43%, study says

Story by Nadia Ramligan, Tenn. public news service 

The number of uninsured children in Tennessee increased by 43% in just a two-year period, according to a report released today by the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families that found that 25,000 children lost health coverage between 2016 and 2018.

Kinika Young, director of children’s health at the Tennessee Justice Center, said advocates are addressing the problem on several fronts.

“One is trying to make families aware of their redetermination process, that we think has been tripping up a lot of people,” she said. “There’s some red-tape barriers that families in Tennessee may not be aware of, and may be having a difficult time navigating through.”

Fourteen other states, many located in the Southeast, also are experiencing a widespread loss of children’s health coverage, according to the report.

Young said the state now is using a new computer system for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). During the years-long process of switching to the new system, she said, thousands of children lost their health insurance.

“The troubles that we’ve seen that led to so many children in Tennessee losing coverage are not necessarily behind us,” she said.

Joan Alker, executive director of the Georgetown Center, said lack of coverage for children can potentially set families up for financial setbacks.

“Cycling in and out of health coverage is a problem at any time of life, but it’s really harmful for children,” she said. “Any short period of uninsurance exposes that parent to medical debt – if a kid falls down on the playground and breaks an arm, happens all the time. So, we really need these kids to have continuous health coverage.”

Alker said President Donald Trump’s hostile rhetoric against immigrants likely is deterring many immigrant families from enrolling their eligible children in Medicaid or CHIP.
The Georgetown report is online at ccf.georgetown.edu, and a state-specific data hub is at kidshealthcarereport.ccf.georgetown.edu.