For the first time in nearly a decade, the U.S. is experiencing a rise in the number of children without health insurance, according to a recent Georgetown University study, which found 276,000 more children uninsured during President Donald Trump’s first year than in 2016.
Researchers and anti-poverty advocates say it’s an unsettling uptick after years of progress, and they blame GOP-led efforts that have kept some states from expanding Medicaid. They also point to Trump’s aggressive focus on curbing immigration and say many families are too worried that signing their children up for government-backed insurance would complicate ongoing immigration proceedings.
“This constellation of national trends has likely created an ‘unwelcome mat’ effect where families are unaware of their options or deterred from seeking coverage,” according to the report by Georgetown University’s Health Policy Institute’s Center for Children and Families.
Some states fared worse than others, the study found: Texas has the highest number of uninsured children, where 1-in-5 are without coverage and 80,000 more lacked health insurance in 2017 than the year before.
The offices of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Texas Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn did not return ABC News' requests for comment. But conservatives in general have argued that the number of people with insurance isn’t the best measure of success. They say affordable, quality care is a better indication of how the U.S. is faring.
“Insuring people is not why we have a health care system,” the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation wrote recently. “The purpose is to get timely care to the most people at a price we all can afford.”
Adriana Kohler, a senior health policy associate for Texans Care for Children, told ABC News the findings are “devastating”, adding that she believes it is due in part to the state refusing the Medicaid expansion.
“It’s not just about the numbers,” she said. “It’s a disturbing report for every Texan who wants kids to get eye glasses, mental health treatment and vision and hearing checks.”
Kohler said she believes the refusal by Texas to expand Medicaid has played a major factor, as well as the state’s more stringent paperwork requirements associated with the program. Also, there are areas in the state where there are few or no outreach workers left to help people figure out if they meet the requirements to enroll in a health care program, like Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program. Some uninsured children may be eligible for coverage on healthcare.gov too; the deadline for that is Dec. 15.