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.
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.