Columbia pediatrician Dr. Deborah Greenhouse treated children Dec. 7 in her office with strep throat, bronchiolitis and other illnesses caused by a wave of respiratory illnesses that swept through South Carolina. She shudders to think what it would be like if thousands more were uninsured and had to seek treatment in an already crowded emergency room.
“It would further burden an already overwhelmed health care system for children,” Greenhouse said. “Families shouldn’t face uncertainty when they need support and peace of mind the most.”
Across the country, thanks to emergency rules put in place during the pandemic, many families have obtained health insurance coverage and the number of uninsured children has plummeted, according to a Dec. 7 report from the Georgetown University Center. for Children and Families. Between 2019 and 2021, there were 210,000 fewer uninsured children in the United States, and the rate fell from 5.7% to 5.4%, according to the report, which used data from the US Census Bureau.
In South Carolina, the number of uninsured children fell from 69,000 to 63,000, a decline of 9.5%, according to the report. The uninsured rate for children fell from 5.8% to 5.3%, although South Carolina continues to rank 32nd among states.
Much of the improvement has come from pandemic-era measures like the Family First Act, said Joan Alker, executive director of the Georgetown Center. In exchange for 6.2% additional Medicaid funding, states like South Carolina agreed not to deport children or families from Medicaid while there was a government-mandated public health emergency. federal.
This 90-day declaration of emergency has been extended several times and is currently set to expire on January 11, 2023. However, because the Biden administration has said it will give states at least 60 days notice before the expiration of the decree, and the time period has already passed, it will almost certainly be extended until April 11. States could then begin the process of reviewing families and children to see if they are still eligible for Medicaid coverage.
Meanwhile, the number of people and children receiving Medicaid nationally and in South Carolina has increased dramatically. Nationally, enrollment in Medicaid and Children’s Medicare increased from 70.7 million in February 2020 to 90.55 million in August, an increase of 28.1%, according to a Post analysis. and Federal Data Courier.
Medicaid enrollments in South Carolina rose from 1.23 million in February 2020 to 1.29 million as of September 30, according to the SC Department of Health and Human Services, an increase of 4.88%. Children on Medicaid in Palmetto State rose from 650,713 to 742,705, an increase of 14.1%, according to an analysis by The Post and Courier of state and federal data.
Some children were previously eligible for Medicaid or other programs and didn’t enroll, but then got coverage when their parents became eligible for Medicaid and enrolled the whole family, Alker said. The researchers also believe there is an undercount in the federal data that would explain the gap between those who obtained coverage under Medicaid and the smaller improvement in the rate of the uninsured. Children from low-income families have seen the biggest gains in coverage, she said.
“The improvement in the rate of uninsured children has been a bright spot for children during the dark days of the pandemic,” Alker said. “(But) while this is good news for American children, it may be short-lived.”
Once the public health emergency is over, states can then reassess eligibility, and advocates fear many will face “procedural losses,” children and families who are deported due to administrative errors, a said Alker. The center previously estimated that there could be up to 6.7 million children who will lose coverage nationwide, many due to things like the state sending the notice of re-enrollment. at the wrong address if a family has moved and the information has not been updated.
South Carolina Medicaid has a detailed plan to prevent this from happening, by electronically verifying family income eligibility through other state databases such as the Department of Employment and Manpower. , or by checking federal sources, the bureau confirmed. Individuals being reassessed will receive 60 days notice, with a 30 day follow up, before eligibility is terminated. Unlike some other states, South Carolina also plans to use calls and texts to try to reach families, the state agency said.
The state must do everything it can to maintain that coverage, Greenhouse said.
“We can’t let the kids down right now,” she said.
Contact Tom Corwin at 843-214-6584. Follow him on Twitter at @AUG_SciMed.
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