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Study: Obamacare Brings Child Insurance Coverage To Record High

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Child health insurance coverage in North Carolina is at a record high of nearly 95 percent, and researchers at Georgetown University say the increase is thanks to the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

A study from Georgetown University shows North Carolina is one of 25 states that saw significant increases in the rate of insured kids after the roll out of the ACA.

Study co-author Joan Alker says that happened in large part because parents applying for Obamacare found out their children were already eligible for Medicaid. Alker calls this phenomenon the "welcome mat" effect.

“We know from experience in other states that when you cover parents, even though the kids might already have been eligible for coverage, they too will be more likely to be enrolled," Alker said.

Alker says while the majority of newly insured kids got coverage as a result of the "welcome mat" effect, many also became eligible as a result of the ACA.

The study shows the state's rate of uninsured children fell from 6.3 percent in 2013 before the ACA roll out, to 5.2 percent in 2014 after the roll out, insuring an additional 25,000 children.

Rates of uninsured children also fell significantly in North Carolina between 2012 and 2013, before the ACA was implemented. But Alker says while uninsured child rates have fallen over the last 20 years, she attributes the significant decrease in uninsured children between 2013 and 2014 to the ACA.

"There was so much attention, good and bad, to the fact that health coverage was now available for folks that didn't have a path to coverage through the new marketplaces," Alker said.

Rob Thompson of NC Child agrees.

"To me these numbers are really clear proof that the Affordable Care Act is having a significant positive impact on health coverage for kids in North Carolina," Thompson said.

But Alker says the ACA could have had a much bigger impact on child health coverage if the state had accepted federal funds to expand Medicaid.

“We did see that states that took the Medicaid option and accepted the federal funds saw nearly double the rate of decline in uninsured children as compared to states that did not accept the Medicaid option," Alker said.

Census data show nearly 120,ooo kids remained uninsured in North Carolina in 2014. Thompson says to push those numbers down, he thinks the state should expand Medicaid and increase awareness in communities that their children may already be eligible.

"We know that in North Carolina about half of the uninsured population is actually eligible for a public health insurance program like Medicaid or Health Choice," Thompson said.

Alker says insuring children through programs like Medicaid can have lifelong impacts.

"We know that health coverage for children leads to improved access to care, better health outcomes, and even stronger educational achievement in the long-run: higher high school graduation rates, better economic mobility and ultimately a good return on government investment as these kids are more likely to become taxpayers," Alker said.

Jess is WUNC's Fletcher Fellow for Education Policy Reporting. Her reporting focuses on how decisions made at the North Carolina General Assembly affect the state's students, families, teachers and communities.
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