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More Oklahoma kids uninsured, even if they qualify for coverage

[The Oklahoman graphics]
[The Oklahoman graphics]

Oklahoma City — About 82,000 Oklahoma kids lacked health insurance in 2017, even though nearly three-quarters of them already qualified for Medicaid or subsidized coverage.

A new report from Georgetown University's Center for Children and Families found the number of uninsured children in Oklahoma had increased by 3,000 from 2016. About 8 percent of Oklahoma kids didn't have insurance, giving the state the fourth-highest rate.

Nationwide, the number of uninsured children increased from 4.7 percent to 5 percent, leaving about 3.9 million kids uncovered.

Part of the problem is poor outreach to parents, who have heard news about changes the Affordable Care Act and think their children can't get coverage, said Joan Alker, executive director of the Georgetown Center for Children and Families.

Crackdowns on immigrants also may have discouraged parents from seeking coverage for their families, even if the children are citizens, she said.

“The name of the game is to make sure that these families are aware that their children have a path to coverage,” she said.

Carly Putnam, a health care policy analyst at the Oklahoma Policy Institute, said the change in Oklahoma isn't large enough to represent a clear trend, but even a blip is worrisome after watching the uninsured rate fall for years.

“Our child uninsured rate has stagnated,” she said.

About half of the uninsured kids in Oklahoma would be eligible for SoonerCare based on their families' incomes, according to data from the Oklahoma Health Care Authority. Another 20 percent aren't eligible for public coverage, but are in families that qualify for subsidies that would at least partially offset the cost of insurance through the exchange.

Children who are covered by Medicaid have a higher probability of graduating high school than their uninsured peers, because they have access to vision services, developmental screenings and other care that could catch problems early, Putnam said.

“If Oklahoma is perhaps inadvertently discouraging these kids from being enrolled, we're going to deal with that through their entire lives,” she said.

Jo Stainsby, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, said some people may not know that their children qualify for coverage, aren't sure how to apply or don't like government programs. The authority has tried to make it easier to apply online, she said.

“We encourage people to apply, even if they think they make more than the income standards. That is the only way they can find out for sure,” she said in an email.

Confusion is a particular problem for American Indian families, whose children are less likely to have insurance than kids of other races.

Bobbie Moran, director of patient resource services at the Oklahoma City Indian Clinic, said tribal members can get care at the clinic without insurance, but they still need coverage for emergency or specialized care.

Sometimes, the clinic has money available to pay for patients' care at nontribal facilities, but it typically covers fewer than half of patients who need help, she said.

Valentina Tuberville, benefit coordinator at the clinic, runs a program to go out to areas with significant numbers of tribal members who lack insurance. Lack of transportation and access to computers are a problem in many areas, and some people are confused about how to prove their income, she said.

“The health care authority wants this information uploaded, but who has a scanner?” she said.

Children’s uninsured rate by race and ethnicity:

American Indian or Alaskan Native: 12.6 percent

Hispanic: 7.8 percent

Other: 5.8 percent

White: 4.9 percent

Black: 4.6 percent

Asian or Pacific Islander: 4.1 percent

Source: Georgetown University Center for Children and Families


States with highest uninsured rates:

Texas: 10.7 percent

Alaska: 9.6 percent

Wyoming: 9.5 percent

Oklahoma: 8.1 percent

Nevada: 8.0 percent

United States average: 5.0 percent

Source: Georgetown University Center for Children and Families

Meg Wingerter

Meg Wingerter has covered health at The Oklahoman since July 2017. Previously, she lived in Topeka, Kansas, and worked at Kansas News Service and The Topeka Capital-Journal, where she earned awards for business coverage. She graduated from... Read more ›