Healthcare one of biggest casualties among children of the Great Recession

Much but not enough attention has been paid to the devastating emotional, financial and professional effects the Great Recession has had on working adults. But what about the children of the longest and most severe economic calamity since the Great Depression? How have they fared?
"Members of this shadow generation have already started out their young-adult lives with a distinct disadvantage, especially if their parents did not have a college degree or were already struggling to stay within striking distance of the middle class," the National Journal recently reported. "Children of the unemployed are 15% more likely to repeat a grade than their peers whose parents held on to stable jobs, a 2009 study by Stevens and economist Jessamyn Schaller found.
"Worse, their families may never recover financially; even 15 to 20 years later, losing a job can translate in to as much as $140,000 less in lifetime wages, according to a 2009 paper by economists Till Marco von Wachter, Jae Song, and Joyce Manchester. For many families, a job loss also nudges them into poverty. From August 2008 to August 2009, The Brookings Institution reports that the number of children on food stamps jumped by 3.4 million."
Besides the financial strains and emotional trauma these children often face, they also frequently encounter health risks, fueled by a lack of medical insurance. This has been especially true in my home state of Nevada, according to a new report by the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute's Center for Children and Families. And in the Silver State, an alarming percentage of children under 18 have no health insurance coverage.

Another Dubious Distinction for Nevada: #1 in Uninsured Children

“We know for a fact that insurance status is a very strong predictor of health,” Glen Stream, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians (but who was not affiliated with the Georgetown study), told USA Today earlier this month. “If you have coverage, you’re going to be healthier because you have access to medical services.”

Already tops in foreclosures, personal bankruptcies and unemployment among major U.S. metro areas, Nevada also leads the nation in the percentage of uninsured children: 16%.2 in 2011, well above the national average of 7.5%, and substantially worse than the 13.2% in No. 2 Texas, the Georgetown study found.
Nevada has never had an enviable record when it comes to insuring its youngsters (or providing for its children across many other important parameters, even during the state’s boom days). And the startling increase detailed above was in part fueled by the state’s stubbornly high jobless rate, a national phenomenon during the recession that has trapped many children's parents.

Lack of outreach is the culprit

Another contributing factor, however, is even more insidious and regrettable, the leader of a Nevada child advocacy organization told the Las Vegas Review Journal. Fewer Nevada children have health insurance coverage not so much because of less availability of public programs, but because the state cut back on funding to communicate with eligible families about available benefits, Denise Tanata-Ashby, executive director of the Nevada Children's Advocacy Alliance, told the R-J. State officials curbed efforts to obtain money earmarked for outreach efforts because reaching more families would have further swelled the state Medicaid rolls during the recession. 

The lack of outreach drove the number of kids enrolled in Nevada Check Up, the state program for low-income families, from nearly 30,000 in June 2007 to fewer than 21,500 in 2011, the Georgetown study reported.

Tanata-Ashby told the R-J that the state must do two things to help to reverse this disturbing trend.
  • First, Nevada needs to aggressively compete for federal grants available to underwrite outreach and application assistance for eligible families.
  • Second, the state should fully support Medicaid expansion under the federal Affordable Care Act. Doing so will provide coverage to an additional 25,000 parents of low-income children, according to state Department of Health and Human Services figures cited in the R-J article. 
That coverage, in turn, would link thousands more children to public health insurance. Unfortunately, a spokeswoman for Gov. Brian Sandoval told the R-J that he had not yet decided whether to expand Medicaid in the state.

I’ll tackle other serious obstacles kids of long-term unemployed parents face in a post later this week. However, not linking poor children to available health care just so the state can suppress its Medicaid rolls is one of the most deplorable.

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