Almost 96 percent of Tennessee children have health insurance with an additional 23,000 children getting coverage since 2013, according to a report from the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families.
Linda O'Neal, executive director of the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth, says having access to health care has an impact on a child's entire life. "When Tennessee children are insured, minor illnesses will be treated early before they escalate into more costly and potentially more damaging illnesses and also because if they have access to health insurance they're less likely to be absent from school," she points out.
Even though more children have insurance than ever before, there remain more than 60,000 children in Tennessee without it. O'Neal says many of them qualify for the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) or Tenncare, but their parents may not be aware of that or know how to enroll.
Nationwide about half of uninsured children live in the South, according to the report. With premiums for coverage offered on the federal health exchange expected to double in some cases, and insurers pulling out of the program, the Affordable Care Act has faced much criticism in recent days. O'Neal says it's important to remember that many of the challenges the program faces would be eliminated if lawmakers would accept federal dollars for their states and bridge the coverage gap.
"There's certainly reason for concern in terms of rising premiums, but there's also a sense that the lack of expansion of Medicaid in a number of states has contributed to the higher premiums," she states. Joan Alker, executive director of the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families, says while the election is highlighting areas where the country disagrees on health care, progress has still been made in securing coverage for those in need.
"We see success around the country and I think this speaks to how despite all of the fighting and very intense partisanship around the Affordable Care Act, we can feel good as a country that we've come together through Medicaid, CHIP and the Affordable Care Act and really reduced the number of uninsured children," she stresses.
A group of largely conservative Tennessee lawmakers have devised the 3-Star Health Plan, which they are expected to introduce in the next legislative session. It offers a way for the state to take advantage of the federal money available for Medicaid expansion.
Partner Station WMSR