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Advocates say officials need to act now to keep Utah kids insured

A doctor holds a stethoscope up to a young child's chest in a white medical exam room. The child is being held by an adult, who is also holding a teddy bear.
Monkey Business
Adobe Stock
Health-care advocates say thousands of Utah kids may need to re-register for health insurance coverage when the pandemic-driven health-care emergency ends in the coming weeks.

With the end of the pandemic-driven public-health emergency looming, a new report reveals that millions of children in Utah and elsewhere are at risk of losing insurance coverage.

About half of Utah children are insured through either Medicaid or CHIP, the Children's Health Insurance Program. They've been able to maintain stability in their coverage thanks to the continuous-coverage requirement from the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

But Jessie Mandle, deputy director of Voices for Utah Children, said when the public health emergency ends, it will put many Utah kids at risk of losing insurance because of something as simple as a change of address.

"We think a lot of kids will either continue to be eligible for Medicaid or they'll be eligible for CHIP," said Mandle. "What we know is that renewals can be a time where a lot of families lose coverage, a lot of kids lose coverage, and even those short-term disruptions can mean worse health outcomes for kids."

The report was released by the Georgetown Center for Children & Families. The public health emergency is set to expire in the next few months.

Since the start of the pandemic, almost 40,000 additional Utah children have enrolled in Medicaid coverage. Mandle said it's important for state officials to have a game plan to inform families that they may need to re-register their kids to continue their health coverage.

"The priority is just making sure that our governor and our state agencies share the plans and make them publicly available," said Mandle, "so that we can all work together and keep kids covered."

Experts say there are policies states can implement now that would help minimize coverage disruption. Tricia Brooks, a research professor at Georgetown's McCourt School of Public Policy, said states should prepare to slow down the process to ensure efforts to prevent automatic disenrollment.

"States should start by maximizing the use of existing data sources," said Brooks, "to confirm ongoing eligibility for as many people as possible now to reduce the backlog of pending actions."

Federal officials have not determined when the COVID-19 public health emergency will end, but it could come as early as April 15.