Why is the number of uninsured children growing?

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Myles Ma, CPFCSenior ReporterMyles Ma, CPFC, is a senior reporter and certified personal finance counselor at Policygenius, where he covers insurance and personal finance. His expertise has been featured in The Washington Post, PBS, CNBC, CBS News, USA Today, HuffPost, Salon, Inc. Magazine, MarketWatch, and elsewhere.

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Most people agree: Children should have health insurance. America has worked for years to reduce the number of uninsured children. But that progress has halted, a new report shows.

The number of uninsured children increased for the first time in nearly a decade in 2017, according to research from the Center for Children and Families at Georgetown University. An estimated 276,000 more children were uninsured in 2017 than in 2016. The share of children without health insurance increased from 4.7% to 5%.

Coverage declined despite an improving economy. Employment-sponsored plans actually covered more children in 2017 but the number of children covered by Medicaid, the Children's Health Insurance Program and individual plans declined.

"These findings should raise concern about the chances for all children to grow and thrive," the report concluded.

Why did this happen?

National news may have created an "unwelcome mat" that lowered families' awareness of coverage options or deterred them from trying to get coverage, the report said. More than half of uninsured children are eligible for Medicaid or CHIP.

"But when you create the impression that Medicaid could be capped and cut as part of the 2017 (Affordable Care Act) repeal efforts, CHIP could end in many states and create an environment that is hostile to immigrants, that can reverse the historic progress we have made in enrolling all eligible children," said Edwin Park, a research professor at the Center for Children and Families.

For example, Congress let funding for CHIP lapse for 114 days after the end of September. Because of the delay, some states sent notices to families enrolled in the program saying their coverage could be terminated. That, and the anxiety and uncertainly the delay created, may have discouraged families from enrolling, Park said.

Three-quarters of the children who lost coverage were in states that did not expand Medicaid to cover everyone with a low enough household income. More than a fifth live in Texas.

"Research shows that when parents are insured, their eligible children are more likely to participate and enroll in Medicaid," Park said.

Medicaid expansion also comes with outreach efforts that can help spur enrollment.

The report also cited attempts to repeal Obamacare and policies targeting immigrant communities as possible reasons for the drop in coverage.

What options are there for insuring children?

Many children with household incomes below a certain level qualify for Medicaid or CHIP, which was specifically created to cover uninsured children back in 1997.

Families can also buy non-group health insurance through federal and state marketplaces. Read our step-by-step guide to signing up for a health care plan. You can apply for Medicaid and CHIP through the health insurance marketplace at Healthcare.gov. You can also apply through your state Medicaid program by following the links below:

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