50,000 children in Louisiana are without health insurance, the largest increase in a decade | Health care/Hospitals

Roughly 11,000 children in Louisiana lost their health insurance last year, the largest single-year drop in over a decade and an alarming reversal of years of progress getting kids covered.

About 50,000 children, or 4.4% of children in Louisiana, were uninsured in the state in 2019, according to an analysis of U.S. Census data by the Louisiana Budget Project, compared to 39,000 children who lacked health insurance in 2018. In 2016, the number of uninsured children was even lower, at 36,000.

The data in Louisiana mirror a nationwide trend that experts fear will worsen amid job losses and an unstable economy due to the coronavirus.

What contributes to Louisiana's high maternal mortality rate? The distance to care, research says

22 of Louisiana’s 64 parishes have no hospital offering obstetric care, birth center, OB/GYN or certified nurse-midwives 

“This reflected 2019, which was a year in which we had record low unemployment and a decade of strong economic growth,” said Stacey Roussel, policy director for the Louisiana Budget Project and author of the report. “Still, we were seeing the uninsured rate for children rising across the country as well as here in Louisiana.”

“It also means a record increase in the number of families without insurance for their children as we were going into the largest public health emergency we’ve seen in our generation,” she added.

Access to health care is critical for young brains and bodies, according to researchers and medical experts.

In the first few years of life, over 80% of brain development takes place and the foundation is laid for growth of major body systems.

Interventions are most effective when doctors can spot conditions at a young age before they become a bigger issue.

“Preventative care is the hallmark of pediatric care,” said Dr. Ryan Pasternak, an adolescent medicine specialist and associate professor at LSU Health New Orleans School of Medicine. “Our goal is not only to identify and treat acute and chronic illnesses, but also to address and identify lifelong illnesses.”

Even short gaps in care can allow things to slip through. Pasternak said he saw a young patient this month who lost Medicaid and put off care for seven months. When the patient regained coverage, it was a two and a half hour visit.

“There were just a plethora of issues that had not been addressed,” Pasternak said.

Boy born 22 weeks into mother’s pregnancy

It’s not yet clear exactly why Louisiana’s number of uninsured children has grown so much in a year.

In 2016, Louisiana expanded Medicaid to include those making up to 138% of the federal poverty level, or about $36,000 for a family of four as of 2020. By April 2019, the expansion provided coverage to more than 500,000 additional people.

But in May of last year, Medicaid enrollment dipped after wage checks that automatically kicked off people appearing to make too much money to qualify, dropping by about 50,000 enrollees by the of 2019. But in January, enrollment started to climb again, with 550,000 people covered by the expansion as of Sept. 2020. 

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Pregnancy care is dangerously distant for women in maternity care ‘deserts’ | Health care/Hospitals

Each week, Ashley Landreneau, a mom of two with another little one on the way, jumps in her car and heads to her doctor’s office in Lafayette.

The 33-year-old salon owner gets a regular weekly ultrasound because a history of seven previous miscarriages means her pregnancy is considered high risk.

And while everything has gone smoothly 19 weeks into her the current pregnancy, what makes it more dangerous is how far she has to trek. From her home in Bayou Chicot, the trip to her doctor’s office is an hour away.

“With my experience and everything I’ve been through, I can’t see just anyone,” said Landreneau. “The closest hospital to me is 45 minutes away. There’s not a specialist there that can deliver. There’s no NICU.”

When Elizabeth O’Brien Brown found out she was pregnant, she knew it would be expensive. So she chose a hospital in her insurance network and …

Louisiana has among the highest rate of death for pregnant women in the U.S. One of the reasons, according to new research, is the lack of maternal care in many areas of the state, which forces women to travel long distances for routine checkups, emergency visits and deliveries.

Twenty-two parishes in the state are without a hospital offering obstetric care, a birth center or any OB/GYNs or certified nurse-midwives, according to an analysis of 2018 federal workforce data released last month by the March of Dimes, a national nonprofit focused on improving health care for mothers and their babies.

In Evangeline Parish, where Landreneau lives, there is just a single OB/GYN in a population of over 33,000 people. That puts the parish among the 35 out of Louisiana’s 64 parishes that have little to no access to maternal care, according to the report.

Due to that scarcity, researchers estimate that one in four pregnant women in Louisiana may need to travel outside of their parish for the many appointments necessary to monitor a pregnancy: ultrasounds, blood tests, glucose screenings, specialist appointments and delivery.

Dr. Rahul Gupta, the nonprofit’s chief medical officer, said that the inconveniences of distance can make it hard for expectant mothers to get the care needed to keep them healthy.

“Transportation becomes an issue,” said Dr. Gupta. “Time becomes an issue, it becomes a money issue. You have to take a day off, go and wait in a practitioner’s office. A lot of times pregnant people have other kids they need to take care of. They have to then find child care. These things accumulate in maternity care deserts.”

According to a study published in the journal Women’s Health Issues last week, a lack of nearby providers is impacting the state’s maternal mortality rate, which was the worst in the country in 2019.

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