Stop Kicking Kids off Their Health Insurance

Imagine if parents had to sign paperwork every month to renew their declaration of love for their children. The idea sounds a bit ridiculous, but it’s not unlike what the State of Texas currently does for many parents who want to keep their kids healthy and protected through reliable health care coverage.

Nearly one in four uninsured children in the U.S. live here in Texas, and that is unacceptable. We are fortunate inTexas to have Children’s Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), but the hurdles imposed by the Texas legislature weaken the benefits of these safeguards.

To confirm Medicaid eligibility, Texas conducts income checks at least four times over a period of six months rather than only once a year. Under this policy, parents must respond to income checks within 10 days of the request for documentation to confirm a child’s eligibility for Medicaid being initiated, regardless of how long it takes for the notice to actually arrive in their mail. If they miss the deadline, their child loses their health coverage. Of the kids who lose Medicaid coverage due to the monthly income checks, 9 out of 10 do so because of “procedural reasons,” such as errors or delays in the monthly paperwork. Only 1 out of 10 is removed from Medicaid because the household income increased.

Uninsured children are less likely to get preventive care and are more likely to experience delays in health care or receive no care at all. One in five Texas children have special health care needs. Facing any lapse in coverage can have significant negative impacts on children with chronic conditions who need regular and frequent visits with providers.

This barrier to continuous coverage is highlighted by Every Texan in their new report Health Equity for Every Texas Child, published this month through its Texas KIDS COUNT project. Supporting children’s health gives them the best chance of succeeding in school and later in life. Providing health care coverage is one way of providing wide-ranging and long-lasting impacts on health, educational, and financial outcomes for both children and their families. Childrenare far less likely than adults to be uninsured because they have access to Children’s Medicaid and CHIP, yet Texas still has the worst child uninsured rate in the U.S. at 12.7% — more than twice the U.S. average of 5.7%.

By protecting all children’s access to affordable and reliable health care coverage, we invest in the success of future generations and set up more equitable conditions to see children thrive.

And as more students are expected to return to on-campus learning statewide this fall, it is critical that the youngest Texans have health coverage in case they fall ill.

Poor childhood health impacts children’s ability to learn, and children who have health insurance tend to do better inschool. Health insurance is critical in the first years of life, as children experience rapid brain development and growth. In this period, frequent check-ups help ensure that children get care for any health conditions or developmental issues that could hold back their success in school, before those issues become more difficult to address. It can also ensurethat children are receiving critical vaccines at the appropriate age that are vital to protecting their health against harmful diseases.

Racial disparities also play a role in health outcomes, both in the likelihood of having health care coverage, and the effects of racism itself on the body. Many children of color live in neighborhoods that are less developed (such as the colonias along the Texas-Mexico border), have fewer resources, and face the threat of deportation and outright discrimination.

Hispanic workers are overrepresented in seasonal industries (construction; agriculture; forestry, fishing and hunting; and accommodation and food services). Month-to-month eligibility checks can cause children in households with seasonal workers to churn on-and-off coverage multiple times per year, even if their average income is well below the income limit.

The negative health impacts of discrimination make it all the more necessary to ensure equitable health insurance coverage rates across groups. Hispanic children continue to experience a higher uninsured rate, and Texas holds the largest share of the nation’s uninsured Hispanic children, at 36% of the national total. Hispanic children in Texas are almost twice as likely to be uninsured as non-Hispanic children.

As our state lawmakers deliberate over hundreds of bills impacting our children and neediest families, we ask for theirconsideration and support of legislation that streamlines eligibility processes for children’s Medicaid. Our love for our children is unconditional and continuous, and Texas children’s health coverage should follow suit.

Jaime Wesolowski is the President & CEO of Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas, Inc., a faith-based, not-for-profit organization based in San Antonio dedicated to creating access to care for low-income, uninsured families through services, strategic grant-making and community partnerships in 74 counties across South Texas.