Here’s some good news. In 2009, in the depths of the Great Recession, the number and percentage of children who lacked health insurance did not rise – even as the total number of Americans without insurance rose by 4 million, to 51 million. Why? Because even as many kids lost the coverage they had through their parents’ employers, they had an alternative: public programs like the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and Medicaid.
Medicaid and CHIP’s role in stabilizing children’s insurance coverage is even more apparent over time. Despite an eroding private health insurance market, the share of children without health coverage fell from 12.5 percent in 1999 to 10 percent in 2009. That’s entirely because coverage rates for children under Medicaid or CHIP rose from 20.3 percent of all children to 33.8 percent over this period, an increase of 10.6 million children.
Two years ago today, President Obama signed legislation to renew CHIP so that it, along with Medicaid, could continue providing critical health insurance coverage to children who need it. As a result, the program has served as a lifeline for millions of children and their families throughout these tough economic times.
More good news is on the way, thanks to health reform (the Affordable Care Act). The law will strengthen the employer-based insurance market by providing tax credits to help small businesses purchase coverage for employees and providing small employers with more affordable options in state-based health insurance exchanges. It will also create more alternatives for people who don't get insurance through their jobs. Individuals, including those now shut out of the current system because they are suffering from serious health conditions, will be able to purchase high-quality, affordable private coverage. Many of these individuals will qualify for premium credits to help them afford coverage. And, the law's expansion of Medicaid will provide a coverage option to poor adults, an alarmingly high share of whom are uninsured.