WASHINGTON – A new report says that Arizona had the 10th-highest percentage of uninsured Hispanic children in the nation in 2014 – the third-highest among states with the largest numbers of Hispanic children.
The report by Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families and the National Council of La Raza, released Friday, looked at Census data to show that 12.7 percent of Arizona’s Hispanic children were uninsured, well above the national average rate of 9.7 percent.
The report said one factor behind Arizona’s relatively high rate may be its 2010 decision to freeze enrollment in KidsCare, the state’s children’s health insurance program, or CHIP. Arizona is the only state without an active CHIP program.
“In effect, this enrollment freeze limited eligibility for children in Medicaid to 152 percent of the FPL (federal poverty level), the lowest income eligibility level in the country,” the report stated.
Dr. Daniel Derksen, a professor at the University of Arizona’s Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, said he is not surprised by the state’s high uninsured rate.
“This is one of those things that would be a relatively easy legislative fix,” he said. “The biggest barrier we face in Arizona – we are the only state in the country that has eliminated the CHIP program.”
Joe Fu, the director of health policy at Children’s Action Alliance in Arizona, agreed that the lack of a CHIP program is what’s holding the state back.
“Without that program, we have seen that Arizona lags behind its neighboring and peer states in its ability to protect children’s health,” Fu said.
Arizona’s ranking came despite the fact that the state did well in terms of gains for the number of Hispanics under age 18 with health care coverage: Uninsured kids in the state fell 2.4 percentage points between 2013 and 2014, the fifth-best increase in the country.
The report said one characteristic of states with lower uninsured rates for Hispanic children is the expansion of Medicaid coverage. Arizona expanded its Medicaid coverage in 2013 as part of the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.
Expanding coverage options for parents can create a “welcome mat” effect, the report said, that leads parents to enroll their children in insurance programs when they sign up for their own.
Derksen said that while both Medicaid and KidsCare were frozen at the beginning of the recession, only Medicaid has been restored and then expanded under Obamacare. He said continued inaction on the children’s program is a disservice to the state.
“It’s irrational that we continue on this path,” he said.
Nationally, the number of uninsured Hispanic children is decreasing at a rate much faster than that of all kids. But Latino children still make up 40 percent of all uninsured kids, while they only account for 24 percent of the children in the country.
The report pointed to two possible barriers for Hispanics seeking coverage, including a lack of access to materials in Spanish, as well as a fear of providing information due to the immigration status of themselves or their family members.
Fu agreed that fear can be a hurdle and said advocates need to focus on “creating a safe space where parents can take their kids to apply” for coverage.
In an interview last week before the report was released, a spokesman for Cover Arizona, a coalition working to increase health insurance enrollment in the state, also cited those barriers and added that many people are unaware of their eligibility for Medicaid or tax credits that can help subsidize a marketplace plan.
“Neighbors say it is expensive, so they go by that,” said Cover Arizona’s David Aguirre, referring to potential enrollees.
Aguirre said that to combat those barriers, Cover Arizona works very closely with local media to get the message out to the community. Partnerships with Telemundo and print media help it specifically target the Hispanic population, he said, as do opportunities for one-on-one assistance in order to quell fears of deportation.
“That’s where the trust comes in,” Aguirre said. “They confide in us so they don’t have to go through a government agency.”
Calls seeking comment from the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the agency that runs the state’s Medicaid program, were not immediately returned Tuesday.