After a decade or more of steady improvement, a new report shows fewer Utah children are being enrolled in health insurance plans.
The study, out today from the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families, shows Utah's 8.3% rate of uninsured children is one of the highest in the nation, and well above the national average.
In 2019, about 82,000 Utah kids were uninsured, a 39% increase from just three years earlier.
Jessie Mandle, health policy analyst at Voices for Utah Children, said the new numbers are a setback for the efforts to keep kids enrolled.
"It's definitely not good," Mandle asserted. "Over the last three years, what we've seen is that Utah has the third-largest increase in its child uninsured rate in the nation."
The numbers are from a U.S. Census Bureau report covering 2018 and 2019, a time when the American economy was relatively strong. Mandle believes the situation is getting worse with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mandle sees part of Utah's decline as the state's lack of year-round continuous coverage, often forcing families to be dropped and then have to re-register mid-year. Other barriers include uncertainty over the Affordable Care Act and federal policies that are seen as anti-immigrant.
"There is a chilling effect that is deterring many immigrant and mixed-status families from enrolling in public health insurance, like Medicaid or CHIP, because of rhetoric and policies that are hostile to immigrants," Mandle contended.
Joan Alker, executive director of the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families, added getting kids insured should be a priority, because research shows early access to health care can provide benefits over a child's entire life.
"Having health insurance is critical for long-term benefits," Alker stressed. "We know that kids who have health insurance are more likely to graduate from high school, attend college, and be healthier, more productive adults."
The report also found the highest uninsured rates for children are among Utah's American Indian and Latino communities, and that Salt Lake County ranks among the top 20 in the nation for the highest number of uninsured kids.