By Laura Rosbrow-Telem, for New Hampshire News Connection
CONCORD — The number of uninsured children in New Hampshire is sharply increasing, according to a new report from the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families. The Center found many states saw similar jumps and states federal policies are largely to blame.
Tricia Brooks is a Georgetown research professor and the former CEO of New Hampshire Healthy Kids. She said in 2017, the state had among the lowest rates of uninsured children in the country. But in 2019, even before the pandemic, that picture changed.
"In that two-year period, New Hampshire dropped from having the sixth-lowest child uninsured rate in the country, to 16th place," said Brooks. "And the number of uninsured children increased from 6,000 to 10,000."
Brooks said New Hampshire's decision to expand Medicaid a few years ago enabled many parents to get their children insured. But the Trump administration has drastically decreased funding for Affordable Care Act navigators to help lower-income parents sign their kids up for Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program.
In New Hampshire, 3.7 percent of children were uninsured in 2019.
Joan Alker, executive director of the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families, said nationwide, 5.7 percent of children lacked health insurance as of last year, reversing many years of progress — and at a surprising time.
"We had a pretty strong economy in 2018 and 2019," said Alker. "And the fact that the number of uninsured children went up when unemployment was so low is extremely troubling. And of course, this data is pre-pandemic."
Brooks noted that other studies show many lower-income families are unaware of their insurance options.
"More than half of uninsured children are eligible, but not enrolled in Medicaid or CHIP — that's known as 'Healthy Kids' here in New Hampshire," said Brooks. "So, I think the state has a real opportunity to address this reversal of the gains that had been made."
Brooks said she thinks New Hampshire could boost its outreach efforts to families and help them sign up.