A new Georgetown University report showed the number of uninsured children in Missouri dropped during the pandemic thanks to a shift in federal policy.
In 2019, Missouri had an estimated 95,000 uninsured children, but a pandemic-related expansion in federal Medicaid coverage drove the number down to 86,000 in 2021.
The report credited the improvement to the expansion of Medicaid benefits which increased federal money to states and required those states to keep Medicaid beneficiaries enrolled continuously during the federal health emergency.
Dr. Maya Moody, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics Missouri Chapter, said Missouri was among the many states seeing eligible children lose coverage for procedural reasons in the past. She pointed out that prior to COVID when a child reached their first birthday, families in MoHealthNet, the state Medicaid agency, had to prove their financial eligibility every three months to keep benefits, which often resulted in lost coverage. “We see a big drop-off between that one year, 15 months, and 18 months for those well-child visits,” Moody observed. “Because families will show up at our front desk and not realize that their insurance isn’t active, or realize that there’s some glitch in the system, or a paperwork didn’t get put through.”
The continuous coverage provision of the Family First Coronavirus Response Act is set to expire in April.
Moody noted early well-check visits are critical, and disruptions in care often result in more costly outcomes when problems are not caught early. “Earlier intervention works better and tends to cost less, right?” Moody emphasized. “We certainly want our children to be happy and healthy, but also we want to make sure that we are doing what we can to be good stewards of our dollars, and making sure that we are doing our part to keep health care costs down.”
In the years prior to the COVID health emergency, the number of uninsured children in America was going up, and Missouri was no different. Between the beginning of 2018 and the summer of 2019, nearly 95,000 Missouri children lost access to Medicaid coverage.
Joan Alker, executive director of the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families, said to avoid administrative barriers, patients must keep state agencies up-to-date. “It’s really important for families to make sure that their contact information is up-to-date with their Medicaid agency,” Alker stressed. “And to just be sure that they open any mail they see from the Medicaid agency, keep a sharp eye out.”