Grand County second worst in state for child health insurance coverage

Utah nonprofit says change to state law could make big difference

Photo by Michal Jarmoluk/Pixabay

A recent report from nonprofit Voices for Utah Children shows how well Grand County’s youth are doing in educational, health and economic terms compared to the rest of the state and country. Among the starkest findings: The county has the second worst insurance rate for children in the state.

Voices for Utah Children, a statewide nonprofit that compiles statistics on measures of wellbeing among Utah’s children, released its 2019 report on how the state’s and county’s youth line up in terms of health, education and economics in October.

The report is sourced from various databases; key among them are federal sources such as the U.S. Census Bureau and the National Center for Health Statistics and state sources, such as the Utah Department of Human Services and Utah Board of Education.

Moe Hickey, the CEO of Voices for Utah Children, recently spoke with The Times-Independent about the report and some of its key findings. Among his top concerns were the lack of insurance for Grand County’s children and what he called the “slow erosion” of Utah’s educational system. More on this will be available in next week’s edition of The Times-Independent.

Children without health insurance

For years, children in Utah have been among the least insured in the country. Two years ago, 5 percent of the country’s youth lacked health insurance while 7 percent of Utah children lacked health insurance. The picture for Grand County is even worse, with 20.4 percent of children — more than one in five — lacking health insurance in recent years.

The effects of a child lacking health insurance can vary. Uninsured individuals — and even some people with insurance — can go bankrupt over high medical costs when an emergency happens. At a societal level, high rates of uninsured children can mean higher health care premiums for everyone.

When a child without health insurance requires care, they may be taken to an emergency room instead of a family doctor because of caretakers’ lack of means to cover the healthcare cost. This means the care goes uncompensated, and health insurance premiums may go up as a result to make up the difference.

In Grand County, the explanation for high rates of uninsured children can vary, with high rates of child poverty playing a likely role. Roughly one in six children in Moab live in poverty; the rate statewide, meanwhile, is one in 10.

Poverty, however, does not fully explain the health coverage gap for Grand County’s children. San Juan County, for example, has the highest rate of child poverty in the state but better health coverage for its children than Grand County with 14.4 percent uninsured in recent years.

According to Hickey, one explanation may be Utah’s lack of a continuous coverage provision for children on Medicaid and Moab families living close to the income threshold for Medicaid coverage.

Continuous coverage provisions mean that a child is guaranteed health coverage for a year after they qualify for the coverage. Utah, however, has a month-to-month system.

“If I worked overtime this month — so my average [income] went above the Medicaid average — you lose insurance next month,” Hickey said, acting the role of a low-income parent with a child on Medicaid. “Aside from the humane aspects of it — which I could go on about — the purely practical and efficiency parts of it just aren’t logical.”

Hickey said that he would be lobbying Utah lawmakers for a change to the continuous coverage provision and that Voices for Utah Children was “getting a good hearing” from Utah lawmakers, but ongoing lawsuits may prevent any change to the rules during the next legislative session.