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Kelly Taulbee: Thousands of Kentucky children at risk of losing health insurance; here’s what’s needed

For more than two years, the pandemic has brought no shortage of challenges to our Commonwealth. One silver lining, however, has been the uninterrupted access of children to health coverage through Medicaid and the Kentucky Children’s Health Insurance Program (KCHIP). Nearly half of all children in the United States are insured through these programs, according to a report by the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families (CCF). In Kentucky, nearly 620,000 children — or roughly 61% of our children under age 19 — are enrolled in Medicaid and KCHIP.

Medicaid and KCHIP coverage means that families have had access to essential care and an increased economic security during an otherwise very tumultuous time. Beyond the pandemic, research shows that coverage for children has long-lasting benefits, including fewer chronic conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes in adults who had coverage as children, higher educational achievements, and positive economic benefits through higher wage earnings as adults. The payoff for both kids and our entire Commonwealth is enormous.

But, in the coming months, thousands of children will be at risk of losing this foundational coverage as Kentucky begins to roll back from the continuous coverage requirement that has been in place during the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE) and resume pre-pandemic operations. At this point, Kentucky will redetermine eligibility for all Medicaid and KCHIP enrollees, including many children, parents, grandparents, pregnant mothers and low-income working families.

This shift represents the largest challenge to public health coverage in a decade. And it could be disastrous for our children if Kentucky is not deliberate, thoughtful, and proactive in its approach to confirming children’s eligibility and supporting those who are no longer eligible in the transition to other sources of health insurance coverage.

Kentucky Voices for Health photo

In fact, Georgetown University CCF estimates nearly 7 million children nationwide are likely to lose their coverage and are at considerable risk of becoming uninsured or experiencing a gap in coverage. Applying the same estimate to Kentucky, we expect as many as 117,800 or 19% of kids currently enrolled in Medicaid and KCHIP are at risk of losing coverage.
Children routinely lose coverage when renewals take place, sometimes for something as small as a letter getting lost in the mail. We know, and studies show, that when kids lose coverage, they are more likely to have unmet healthcare needs that interfere with their success in school.

As we near the end of a global pandemic, amid significant increases in grocery and gas prices, interrupting access to care for even short periods of time could have severe repercussions for the financial security and long-term health outcomes of hardworking Kentucky families. As our Commonwealth looks to the end of the PHE, proposed changes under House Bill 7 in the state legislature only further jeopardize the health and economic security of thousands of Kentucky families, creating additional barriers to eligible Kentucky children and families in need of assistance accessing medicine and food.

When health issues arise in families that are uninsured or underinsured, they often face financial strain from large medical bills or forgo seeking treatment altogether. And we should never forget that accidents happen and kids get sick, so another edge of the same sword includes the high cost of uncompensated care for our hospitals and providers when uninsured Kentuckians, including children, do seek the urgent or emergency care they need.

Collaboration and thoughtful preparation will be central to this transition. We urge Kentucky’s leaders–from the Governor’s Office to the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to our State Legislature–to take the time to get this right and make sure that no child becomes uninsured. As states begin to resume renewal operations, we urge them to consider incorporating the following strategies into their actions so as to effectively process renewals and keep children covered:

• Remove unnecessary red tape from the recertification process that could lead to eligible families getting tripped up or missing a deadline.

Georgetown University photo

• Proactively update contact information for parents, or grandparents and other guardians.

• Provide clear information about the renewal process in plain language.

• Boost capacity of customer service by any means necessary in order to meet the anticipated volume and increased need for assistance.

• Pause disenrollment if the state is unable to keep up with fluctuations in the increased demand for help.

• Take additional and deliberate steps to follow-up with children and families at a risk of losing coverage due to missing information.

Kentucky Voices for Health continues to be an active and ready partner in the effort to keep Kentucky’s children covered. We know there is strength in numbers, and we are committed to working together to ensure every child has access to the care they need and the opportunity to lead healthy lives.

Kelly Taulbee is director of communications and development at Kentucky Voices for Health.

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