Percentage of Uninsured Children Dropping in Some Communities

News Releases
October 31, 2000

Alwyn Cassil: 202/264-3484

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Some U.S. communities experienced a significant decline in the percentage of children lacking health insurance between 1996-97 and 1998-99 according to a study released today by the Center for Studying Health System Change (HSC). The communities of Boston, Little Rock, and Syracuse all saw drops in children’s uninsurance rates even though the national percentage of children lacking health insurance did not change over the same time period.

The changes reported by the HSC study included a drop from 7 percent to 3 percent in Boston, from 17 percent to 12 percent in Little Rock, and from 7 percent to 4 percent in Syracuse. Other declines were also found in the communities of Miami, Greenville (SC), and Cleveland, although those decreases were not statistically significant.

"The strong economic growth that our country has seen in recent years is clearly a contributing factor to lower rates of uninsured kids," said Peter J. Cunningham, HSC senior researcher and co-author of the study. "In some communities, the decrease in uninsurance rates was due almost entirely to an increase in private insurance coverage among children. With the current economy, more parents are probably getting family coverage through their employers."

Other communities examined in the study, including Indianapolis, Lansing, Phoenix, and Orange County (CA), reflected the national trend showing no statistically significant change in uninsurance rates, as reported by HSC this April (see HSC Issue Brief #29, "Recent Trends in Children’s Health Insurance Coverage"). That study found a sharp increase in coverage through Medicaid and other state insurance programs like the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), but an equally sizeable decrease in private insurance coverage. The result was no net gain in coverage among low-income children nationally between 1996-97 and 1998-99.

"The increased availability of public health coverage may also have led to a drop in uninsurance rates in communities like Boston, Little Rock and Syracuse," said Cunningham. "A recent Children’s Defense Fund report found Massachusetts, Arkansas and New York were among the most successful states in enrolling children in Medicaid and SCHIP."

Although a September 2000 report of the U.S. Census Bureau showed a decline in children’s uninsurance rates for the first time after a decade of steady increases, HSC researchers say it is unclear whether the successes in Boston, Little Rock, and Syracuse can be duplicated elsewhere.

"There are considerable differences among communities when it comes to children’s health insurance rates," said Paul B. Ginsburg, HSC president. "While some communities now have nearly universal coverage of children, other cities with high uninsurance rates have made little or no progress on this front. We will continue tracking to determine if more recent, aggressive efforts to enroll kids in SCHIP by states and communities make a difference."

This study was conducted as part of HSC’s Community Tracking Study (CTS). The CTS surveys physicians, consumers and employers every two years to track trends in the health care system. This core HSC study focuses on 60 nationally representative communities throughout the United States, and includes phone surveys and in-person interviews. HSC has just launched its third round of the CTS with previous surveys conducted in 1996-97 and 1998-99.

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