News Release

Report Sounds Alarm on Latino Children Losing Ground in Health Coverage

Gap in health coverage rates between Latino children and all children widened in 2018 for first time in a decade, heightening worries about health care in the current environment

March 18, 2020

WASHINGTON, DC—A decade of progress providing health coverage to more Latino children has begun to erode. The number of uninsured Latino children climbed to 1.6 million and the uninsured rate grew from 7.7 to 8.1 percent between 2016 and 2018, according to a new report by UnidosUS and Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families.

This marks an alarming reversal after a decade in which the uninsured rate for Latino children—who are projected to make up one in three children in United States by 2050—dropped by more than half and the health coverage gap between Latino children and all children narrowed by nearly six percentage points.

Trump administration efforts to undermine health care programs, as well as policies and rhetoric targeting immigrant families, have made it more difficult for families to enroll their eligible children in public health coverage, the report states. Even though nearly all Latino children are U.S. citizens (95 percent), concerns about immigration status still present barriers to coverage—particularly for mixed-status families.

“All children need health coverage—particularly at times like these,” says Kelly Whitener of Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families. “The only way to effectively respond to a pandemic is to ensure that everyone has access to health care and that we have a strong health care infrastructure. As most uninsured children are eligible for affordable health coverage through Medicaid or CHIP but not enrolled, we need to stop policies that undermine access to these programs and strengthen our commitment to helping all families overcome barriers to enrollment.”

According to the report, many states have failed to protect children from harmful policies or, even worse, added onerous application or renewal requirements to Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), making it even more difficult for families to enroll their eligible children. Latino children living in states that failed to expand Medicaid were two and a half times more likely to be uninsured than those in expansion states in 2018.

“This alarming increase in the number of uninsured Latino children was already reason to take bold action, but the current environment should sound that alarm even louder: more uninsured children means more children whose health and safety are further compromised and these children are harder to reach and help during a public health crisis,” says Steven T. Lopez, Director of Health Policy for UnidosUS. “We need our federal and state governments to step up and expand programs so that more children have coverage and are protected.”

From 2016 to 2018, the uninsured rate for Latino children increased across all income groups, but coverage loss was most pronounced for children in low- to moderate-income families. Despite higher workforce participation rates for Latinos, the report found that health coverage remains out of reach for many Latino families, especially in states with lower CHIP income eligibility levels.

California has the largest population of Latino children, followed by Texas. State leaders in California and Texas have taken very different approaches to how they run their Medicaid/CHIP programs, and those policies are reflected in how these two states have fared in meeting the health coverage needs of Latino children. Between 2016 and 2018, the number of uninsured Latino children in Texas increased by more than 12 percent while the number decreased by almost 11 percent in California.

“In Texas, we are impacted by the same anti-immigrant, anti-Medicaid policies coming from the national administration, but state decisions have made things even worse,” said Dr. Laura Guerra-Cardus, deputy director of the Children’s Defense Fund of Texas. She pointed to the fact that Texas has not expanded Medicaid and has put in place a series of mid-year eligibility reviews that are inaccurately kicking eligible children out of Medicaid.

“Policy decisions made by Texas leaders are undermining children’s access to health coverage at a time when we should be providing children with uninterrupted health coverage,” said Guerra-Cardus. “Now more than ever, it should be evident that we are all inextricably connected. The health and well-being of our neighbors matters, and this absolutely includes the Latino community.”

California was the only state to see a significant decrease in the number and rate of uninsured Latino children between 2016 and 2018, with an uninsured rate at 3.7 percent, well below the national average.

“Despite disturbing national trends, we are proud of California's Health4All approach, whereby offering health coverage to all low-income children, regardless of immigration status, is the most effective strategy for ensuring Latinx children receive the care they need," said Mayra E. Alvarez, president of The Children's Partnership. "We are seeing the positive results of that message—a welcome mat for all. However, with federal threats like public charge at a time when staying healthy is a grave concern, we must ensure our Latinx families feel safe to stay enrolled."

A February poll of Latino voters commissioned by UnidosUS found that health care is a top concern for the Latino community. “Health has long been top of mind for America’s voters, including Latino voters, and recent attacks on the ACA, along with the pandemic, have intensified their worries over their health and wellbeing,” says Lopez. “Political leaders would be wise to pay attention because voters are paying attention to how leaders address their concerns and ensure we all have quality, affordable and accessible health coverage and care.”

UnidosUS, previously known as NCLR (National Council of La Raza), is the nation’s largest Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization. Through its unique combination of expert research, advocacy, programs, and an Affiliate Network of nearly 300 community-based organizations across the United States and Puerto Rico, UnidosUS simultaneously challenges the social, economic, and political barriers that affect Latinos at the national and local levels. For more than 50 years, UnidosUS has united communities and different groups seeking common ground through collaboration, and that share a desire to make our country stronger. For more information on UnidosUS, visit www.unidosus.org or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Georgetown University Center for Children and Families (CCF), part of the Health Policy Institute at the McCourt School of Public Policy, is an independent, nonpartisan policy and research center with a mission to expand and improve high-quality, affordable health coverage. Founded in 2005, CCF is devoted to improving the health of America’s children and families, particularly those with low and moderate incomes.

Contact:
Christopher Allbritton
news@unidosus.org
(202) 776-1576