Insurance Coverage Increases, But Child Poverty Persists

CAFCA | October 07, 2015 |

 A growing number of Connecticut residents — including children — have medical insurance thanks to health care reforms, but disparities remain in the state as childhood poverty persists, according to data released last week.

The U.S. Census Bureau released two sets of data: one looking at the number of people with health insurance coverage and another examining child poverty rates. An analysis by the New Haven-based advocacy group Connecticut Voices for Children pointed out lingering concerns that persist amid the improving insurance landscape.

Connecticut’s childhood poverty rate did not change between 2013 and 2014, even though the national rate did, Census data shows. About 15 percent of Connecticut children lived below the federal poverty threshold in 2014, meaning their household income was less than $24,008 for a family of four.

The poverty rate among children held steady, even amid a slight uptick in the state’s median income from $67,944 to $70,048, according to CT Voices for Children.

Racial disparities also emerged among the poverty data. While 6 percent of white children statewide lived in poverty, 31 percent of black children and more than 31 percent of Hispanic children did in 2014.

There was, however, a bright spot in the Census data when it came to insurance coverage.

Despite the stagnant child poverty rate, the Census figures — compiled through a survey — found that more Connecticut residents had health insurance in 2014 than did the previous year, thanks in part to the federal Affordable Care Act.

The Census estimates that just more than 93 percent of state residents had health insurance in 2014, up from 90.6 percent in 2013. Nationwide data showed a similar trend, with the percentage of insured people rising from 85.5 percent in 2013 to more than 88 percent last year.

Connecticut’s increase in the number of insured residents was attributable partly to the state’s expansion of Medicaid, according to CT Voices.

“By improving access to care, Connecticut is supporting healthy child development, family financial security, and more productive workplaces,” Ellen Shemitz, executive director of CT Voices, said in a statement.

The number of Connecticut children with health insurance also rose, from 95.7 percent in 2013 to 96.3 percent last year, the Census found. Likewise, the share of insured children nationwide rose from 92.9 percent in 2013 to 94 percent in 2014.

In addition to the Affordable Care Act, some other provisions have helped state residents get insurance coverage, according to CT Voices. Some who were previously uninsured obtained coverage through the state’s new health insurance marketplace, which lets consumers compare prices and benefits among various plans.

The marketplace has been particularly helpful for individuals and families who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but cannot afford private insurance, according to CT Voices. Those people can receive federal subsidies to help cover premium costs and reduce out-of-pocket expenses.

“For families, having health insurance is essential because it increases the likelihood that children will receive regular check-ups and other essential health care services,” Sharon Langer, advocacy director of the group, said in a statement. “While we are pleased to see the increase in the percentage of children with health insurance, we do have concerns that the recent rollbacks in coverage for HUSKY parents will undermine some of this success in the future.”

Earlier this year, lawmakers and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy scaled back coverage for thousands of parents on HUSKY A. Parents with incomes above 155 percent of the federal poverty level have until Oct. 1 to purchase a plan on the health insurance exchange. Of the 1,200 parents expected to lose Medicaid in the first wave, only 157 have signed up for health insurance on the exchange, according to Access Health CT. Another 400 remain eligible for Medicaid, according to the Department of Social Services.

In about a year another 18,550 HUSKY A parents are expected to lose coverage under the changes to the program. Many of the parents were spared in the first round because under a federal law they qualify for 12 months of additional coverage due to their earned income.

It remains to be seen how newly made changes to Medicaid will impact families, said Frances Padilla, president of Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut, a Meriden-based group that advocates for universal access to health care.

“Connecticut has made big strides expanding health coverage for its residents, but challenges still loom large,” Padilla said in a statement. “Too often, access to the right care at the right time is not available for people on Medicaid. And the jury is out on how many will go without health care as a result of recent changes in Medicaid eligibility for parents. Our work is not done.”