COLUMBUS, Ohio - For the first time in a decade, the number of children without health coverage in the United States has gone up.
According to a new report from the Georgetown University Center on Children and Families, the number of uninsured kids rose by more than 275,000 in 2017, and nearly 4 million children in the U.S. now lack coverage.
Ohio was among states with a significant increase, and now has a total of 125,000 children without health insurance.
Kathleen Gmeiner, senior health policy associate at Voices for Ohio's Children, called it especially troubling because Ohio was once ahead of the curve nationally in covering kids.
"We're losing ground. We've got about another 21,000 uninsured children in 2017 over what we had in 2016," Gmeiner said. "And so, we've got to figure out, 'Where are the problems?' And we need to attend to those problems."
Most states that expanded Medicaid, including Ohio, had uninsured rates lower than the national average.
Gmeiner explained that children are far more likely to be insured if their parents can access coverage. The report found states that have not expanded Medicaid saw their uninsured rates for children nearly triple the rate of expansion states.
Joan Alker, executive director of the Georgetown Center, pointed out that the national increase in uninsured kids came during a year when the Trump administration cut the budget for publicizing affordable coverage and hiring "navigators" to help explain the enrollment process.
According to Alker, people also were watching a steady stream of congressional efforts to shrink programs designed to help working families, which she believes created an "unwelcome mat" effect.
"Congress was trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act for much of the year; Congress was trying to cut Medicaid," Alker recalled. "And then, Congress let funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program expire Sept. 30 of that year, and it took them many months to actually get the CHIP program extended."
Alker believes it's in the nation's best interest long-term to build upon years of bipartisan progress in reducing the number of uninsured children. She said when children's health needs are met, their parents miss fewer days of work, kids are better able to learn in school and are better equipped to make positive contributions as adults.