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Study: Obamacare Helps Close The Insurance Gap For Latino Kids

Latino child
Lillian Zepeda
Flickr Creative Commons

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has helped close the health insurance gap for North Carolina's Latino children, according to a national report.

Researchers at Georgetown University and a Latino advocacy group called the National Council of La Razafound the state's rate of uninsured Latino kids dropped two percentage points after the implementation of Obamacare in 2014. Around 10 percent of the state's Latino children were without health insurance in 2014, down from about 12 percent before the ACA took effect.

Study authorSteven Lopezsays many Latino kids from low-income families got insured when their parents enrolled in Obamacare.

"If adults are signing up for coverage through the marketplace, they are finding out that there are options for their children through Medicaid and CHIP," Lopez explained.

Researchers call this phenomenon the "welcome mat" effect—adults enrolling in coverage find out their children were already eligible through state and federal programs.

Lopez says many immigrant Latino kids also got covered when the state waived the five-year period legally residing immigrant children had to wait before they became eligible for Medicaid.

"Not all states do that," Lopez said. "So we see that as one of the drivers that's helping the state reduce the number of uninsured Hispanic kids."

Ninety-three percent of the country's Latino children are U.S. citizens, but they are still twice as likely as white children to be uninsured. In North Carolina, they account for more than a quarter of the state's 120,000 uninsured children.

Latino kids are less likely to have health insurance because a high percentage come from low-income families, Lopez said.  And even though most Latino children are U.S. citizens, their parents may not be.

"About half of them reside in a household with at least one parent who is an immigrant," Lopez said.

Researchers pointed out that language can be a barrier for these families, and that undocumented parents may fear enrolling their child could lead to deportation. Lopez says work is being done to assuage undocumented parents that enrolling their children will not result in immigration-related consequences for them or other undocumented members of their family.

"Enrolling in health coverage through the marketplace, or through Medicaid or CHIP—the information that's provided on the application is only used to determine eligibility. It's not used for any type of immigration enforcement act," Lopez said.

Lopez says expanding Medicaid in North Carolina could further help insure those children who don't have coverage. Rob Thompson ofNC Childagrees.

"Legislators have the option this year to expand coverage to low-income adults and accept already allocated federal dollars to do that," he said. "It's a tremendous opportunity to provide almost half a million people in our state with health coverage, and as a result we're going to get more kids enrolled in programs for which they are already eligible."

Latinos account for more than 15 percent of North Carolina's children. Thompson says as their population continues to grow, coverage becomes more important.

"It's critical for the future of our entire state that we make sure that Hispanic children are healthy so that they can be successful adults down the road," he 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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