More than 2 in 5 children in PA now rely on publicly funded or supported health insurance
Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children (PPC), the only statewide advocacy organization with a public policy agenda that spans a child’s life prenatally through adulthood, released its 2021 State of Children’s Health Care in Pennsylvania: Health Insurance During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Due to the unique circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic and the limited data available as a result, this year’s report takes a different approach by using alternate data sources.
The report highlights steps to connect Pennsylvania children to health insurance better and reduce known racial disparities that will continue to deepen if not directly addressed.
“We found that families have weathered the pandemic storm under the umbrella of public health coverage because enrollment increased in the last year,” said Kari King, President and CEO of Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children.
Together, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and Pennie™, the state-based marketplace, account for 45.9% of children covered in Pennsylvania. Statewide, Medicaid and CHIP have enrolled 10% more children since the beginning of the pandemic, and every county has seen an increase.
King said a key factor affecting the increase is the disenrollment freeze implemented in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act in March of 2020, which will be in place for as long as the federal public health emergency (PHE) is in effect.
However, an estimated 500,000 individuals stand to lose coverage once the PHE expires and routine Medicaid operations resume if Pennsylvania does not carefully plan.
“Threats to safety net programs existed before the pandemic,” said King. “We cannot understate the importance of ensuring that every eligible child and pregnant or postpartum individual does not unnecessarily lose coverage.
“Keeping eligible people connected to Medicaid once the public health emergency ends is avoidable,” she continued. “In partnership with other Pennsylvania health advocates, we offer best practices to assist DHS, the state’s Medicaid agency, in its planning efforts for the enormous task ahead, some of which can start now, before the PHE ends.”
Those recommendations include ensuring those with existing coverage stay connected without unnecessary gaps in coverage through auto-renewal strategies, updating current mailing addresses and more extended time frames for continuous coverage.
In addition, data shows disproportional impacts of the pandemic by race and ethnicity on Pennsylvania households with children, causing economic hardship, food insufficiency and delayed medical care. Larger percentages of children of color enrolled in Medicaid during the pandemic than their White counterparts, which would appear consistent with existing health disparities that have become exacerbated over the past nearly two years.
“We acknowledge that we do not have all of the pieces of the puzzle. What we do know is that these disparities will continue to deepen if not directly addressed. Using data disaggregated by race and ethnicity coupled with feedback from impacted communities can help achieve equitable outcomes,” said King.
The report also covers the impact of the pandemic on routine immunizations that protect from 17 childhood diseases. Overall, Pennsylvania had a 5% decline in vaccination coverage. The early part of 2021 shows vaccination gaps continued among children, particularly preschool and young school-age children ages 4-10. Ensuring kids are up to date on routine immunizations is necessary for community health and helps keep them healthy enough to stay in school.