Take a moment to imagine a large quantity of something – it can be anything. Got it? Ok, so how much of “something” did you imagine? One hundred? One-hundred thousand? These are both considered large quantities, yet both values pale in comparison to 15.3 million currently unemployed Americans. Now consider that the majority of these Americans have children who, indirectly, are experiencing an avoidable loss of healthcare coverage due to their parents’ unemployment.
Our data indicate that for every 1,000 jobs lost, 311 privately-insured children lose health insurance coverage. As if this is not alarming enough, data further shows that for every 1,000 jobs lost to families earning less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level, 456 privately-insured children lose coverage. These data are significant because they show that the most vulnerable privately-insured children experience the greatest probability of losing or experiencing an unnecessary gap in their coverage.
An additional call for concern is the likelihood for Hispanic children losing coverage – especially those who are young, poor and living on the West Coast. For them, potentially losing coverage is the highest at 52 percent. In total, the study found that 30 percent of all privately-insured children whose parents lost jobs are considered low income.
Since the cost associated with extended coverage like that available through Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) is so high, low-income families are likely to have fewer options for retaining coverage than those in high-income families. Despite the probable qualification for public insurance in most states through the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act (CHIPRA), the study shows a substantial number of low-income children are not taking advantage of this opportunity within the first three months after a parental job loss, thus creating a gap in healthcare coverage.
Solutions proposed in the study include greater federal assistance for families to purchase and maintain COBRA insurance, increased funding at the state level through the stimulus package and CHIPRA, to modify CHIPRA’s role as a safety net during economic contractions, and the introduction of incentives for enrollment and funds for outreach.
With our current economic policy, the key implications of these findings are that much more effort is needed to reach out to children when their parents suffer job loss. More action must be taken to ensure that children become enrolled in available programs, and interruptions in their healthcare coverage are further reduced or eliminated.
For more information related to this research study, please visit the Child Policy Research Center (CPRC) Web site. A digital-audio file is also available in the CCHMC ‘Newsroom’ – the audio file is an expert roundtable discussion, featuring Lee Partridge, senior health policy advisor at the National Partnership for Women & Families, Jocelyn Guyer, co-executive director at the Center for Children and Families and a senior researcher at the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute, and myself.
Gerry Fairbrother, PhD, is the Associate Director of the Child Policy Research Center. Her research focuses on access and barriers to care, particularly for low-income children, and vaccine policies. Dr. Fairbrother also directs the Health Services Research course in the Division of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of Cincinnati.