More children than ever in Texas have health insurance, but all children should have coverage, several agencies said.
“Texas is still not at the top of the list,” Joe Compian of Gulf Coast Interfaith said. “While we are grateful it is coming up, it’s difficult to convince legislators that medical insurance for children is the most efficient use for dollars.”
The Annie E. Casey Foundation ranked Texas 39th in the nation for children’s health. Nine percent of children in Texas lack insurance compared to 5 percent of children in the United States.
Overall, the foundation ranked Texas 41st in the nation for child wellbeing.
10 percent in Galveston County
While 9 percent of children in Texas don’t have health insurance, the figure for children in Galveston County is 10 percent.
About 15,000 children in Galveston County live in poverty, and about 8,000 don’t have health insurance, according to the foundation’s 2017 Kids Count Data Book released June 13.
“These children aren’t getting preventative care, or if they get sick, it puts a financial strain on the family,” said Kristie Tingle research analyst at Austin-based Center for Public Policy Priorities.
The organization claims state legislators failed this session to enact policies to improve the wellbeing of children. Child health insurance rates have improved dramatically in the past decade, but Texas still ranks 48th for its percentage of children lacking coverage, the report said.
The report shows that 19 percent of children in the county live in poverty, 24.4 percent live with food insecurity and 8.4 percent of babies are born with low birth weights, Tingle said.
Those figures are slightly higher than the state’s, she said.
Why health insurance matters
The improvement in insurance access since the passage of the Affordable Care Act is significant, but the number of uninsured children could be lower if Texas had expanded its Medicaid, the Center for Public Policy Priorities said.
“Research indisputably shows children’s health is the foundation of their physical, intellectual and emotional development,” according to the Casey Foundation. “Healthy kids are more likely to attend school, be ready to learn and graduate from high school and college, while poor health in childhood can have lifelong consequences.”
Uninsured people in general are more likely to die from health-related problems, according to the Texas Medical Association.
Combatting low birth weights
One program that helps with food insecurity and low birth weights is the federal Women, Infants and Children nutrition program.
Galveston County Health Department served 10,237 WIC participants in 2016, spokesman Scott Packard said. That number, however, doesn’t include other WIC programs outside the health department offices.
Tiffany Rice, the county department’s WIC program manager, helps pregnant, breastfeeding and post-partum mothers with low to moderate incomes. The program improves birth weights, she said.
“We educate,” Rice said. “We make sure they have a basic knowledge of nutrition, and we teach them how to shop economically on a limited budget.”
Rice offers in-person and online classes with follow-ups to guide mothers in making nutritional choices. The program also helps children from birth through age 5 get healthy food such as fruit, vegetables and whole grains.
Rice has noticed an increase in the number of families with medical insurance, she said.
“We screen for insurance,” Rice said. “We make sure we are referring those families to the resources they need.”
Partnerships with groups such as farmers markets are important to making WIC successful, Rice said. Her office also partners with Family Service Center to offer parenting classes.
Fear keeps some uninsured
Andrea Hypolite, director of The Navigator Program at Galveston-based Children’s Center Inc., advises parents on how to sign up for health insurance.
“It’s become easier for them to apply,” Hypolite said.
She helps parents apply for Medicaid, CHIP or other insurance depending on their income.
But she’s not certain the number of uninsured children is really dropping.
“We see more clients coming in,” Hypolite said. “We have a lot of parents losing it or not renewing it in time.”
Fear is keeping many parents from insuring their children, Hypolite said.
“A number of immigrants may be fearful even if their child is a U.S. citizen,” Hypolite said. “Your immigration status doesn’t affect your child’s insurance.”
Her office is reaching out to all parents and encouraging them to get their children covered.
The Casey report also had positive news about Galveston County, especially about education.
The high school graduation rate in the county is higher in general that the state’s, and the county also has higher pre-K level participation.
Also, fewer children in Galveston County live in single-parent families, Tingle said. While the figure is 26 percent for the county, it’s 36 percent for the state.
“That’s a significant difference,” Tingle said.
Only 6 percent of children in Galveston County live in areas of concentrated poverty, while 18 percent do statewide.
Texas lags behind the nation, Tingle said. The study ranked Texas:
• 32nd in economic wellbeing. While the number of children in poverty is decreasing, more than 1.6 million Texas kids live in poverty. About 28 percent of children live in families where no parent of the household has fulltime, year-round employment.
• 30th in education. Despite that ranking, Texas tied for third best in the percentage of on-time high school graduations. Challenges in college and career readiness remain: 69 percent of Texas fourth graders score below proficient in reading, and 68 percent of Texas eighth graders score below proficient in math.
• 47th in the family and community domain. More than 1.5 million Texas kids live in families where the head of household lacks a high school diploma. Additionally, 18 percent of Texas children live in high-poverty areas, higher than the national level of 14 percent.
One challenge Gulf Coast Interfaith has for the legislature is to expand CHIP and allow families to buy into it rather than limit participation by salary limits, Compian said.
“We remain optimistic, and we will ultimately prevail and convince the legislature to provide access to health care for children,” Compian said.