By Chris McGuinness
Killeen Daily Herald
When it comes to finding health insurance in Texas, adults aren't the only ones slipping through the cracks.
Data from the 2010 Census shows that of the 5.8 million Texans living without health insurance, more than 17 percent of them are under 18 years of age.
"It's one of the most vulnerable parts of the population," said Anne Dunkelberg, associate director for the Austin-based Center for Public Policy Priorities. "Texas still has one of highest rates for uninsured people in the nation, and unfortunately, it does in many children."
That same census data puts the number of uninsured minors in Bell County at 9,644, or about 10 percent.
Dunkelberg said the high rate of uninsured children was, in part, a reflection of the growing cost of private health insurance for their parents, who often have to pay higher premiums for adding their dependents on to their employer's health care plans.
"Texas has one of the highest growth rates in insurance premiums," said Dunkelberg. "Parents are finding it increasingly harder to afford health insurance for themselves, let alone the cost of adding their kids to policies."
The increase in the cost of private health insurance is fueling an increase in the number of children who receive health care through government-funded programs.
Data from the center shows that the number of children enrolled in the state's Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and Children's Medicaid programs has doubled between 2000 and 2011.
Data from the state's Department of Health and Human Services shows that 561,462 children were enrolled in CHIP, and more than 2.5 million under the age of 19 enrolled in the state's Medicare program at the beginning of 2012.
In Bell County, 4,111 children were enrolled in CHIP and more than 25,000 enrolled in Medicare for the same period.
Dunkelberg said rates of uninsured children were lower than those of adults due to the fact that it was easier to children to meet the requirements to receive benefits from the programs.
"In many cases you can have children who qualify for CHIP and Medicare, but their parents don't," said Dunkelberg. "You have 2.5 million children on Medicare, but almost none of their parents qualify."
Despite the increasing number of children in the state who rely on those programs, lawmakers in Texas have been making cuts to their funding.
In order to cope with a $27 billion revenue shortfall, state lawmakers made cuts to both Medicaid and the CHIP by reducing health and human services spending by $10 billion for the next two years.
While they pledged to restore $5 billion of that funding in January 2013, Dunkelberg worried that continued cuts would affect services for children and other who qualify for the programs.
"It's not a crisis yet, but it could create barriers to care," she said. "If our state doesn't get its fiscal act together, and have the ability to have a tax system that matches up with needs of Texans, then we could have some serious problems going forward."
In the end, Dunkelberg said, the issue of uninsured children was just one part of a larger discussion about the health needs of all Americans, and how to eliminate gaps in care at various levels on income and age.
"It doesn't take a rocket scientist or mathematician to know you need a system that deals with affordability across a wide range of incomes," she said. "Until you address that, you haven't really solved the problem."
Contact Chris McGuinness at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7568. Follow him on Twitter at ChrismKDH.
BY THE NUMBERS
Number of uninsured under 18 years of age (2010 Census)
Texas: 5.8 million (17%)
Bell County: 9,644 (10.9%)
Enrollment in CHIP as of January 2012
Bell County: 4,111
Enrollment in Medicare (under age 19) as of January 2012
Texas: 2.5 million
Bell County: 25,232
SOURCE: 2010 U.S. Census and Texas Department of Health and Human Services
REGIONAL HEALTHCARE SERIES
Sunday: Indigent Healthcare
Sunday: Healthcare Overview
Today: Uninsured Children
Tuesday: Seton Opens
Wednesday: Healthcare and Education