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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Expanding Medicaid Helps Children Succeed in School

Dee Mahan

Researchers from Cornell and Harvard have found that children who have health insurance through Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) go further in school than children who are uninsured, according to a recent report. Compared to their uninsured counterparts, children covered by Medicaid or CHIP are more likely to complete high school, as well as attend and complete college. Medicaid or CHIP health coverage helps children perform better academically through adulthood, which can help them succeed in life.

That’s an important finding for state policymakers to keep in mind: A state’s education and health care investments complement each other. When states invest in robust, affordable health coverage options through Medicaid and CHIP, they can help children achieve more in school. 

The link between children with health insurance and future academic success also gives policymakers one more good reason to expand Medicaid. Here’s why: Research from Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families shows that covering low-income parents increases health insurance enrollment for children. Conversely, children are more likely to be uninsured when their parents don’t have health coverage. The correlation is strong. An analysis from the General Accountability Office (GAO) found that 84 percent of children have the same insurance status as their parents. So making sure that parents can enroll in affordable health coverage will help ensure that children are covered by programs like Medicaid and CHIP that are available to them. 

Expanding Medicaid helps eliminate the health insurance “coverage gap” for parents, which should increase enrollment for children 

Right now, every state Medicaid program covers children in families with incomes up to 138 percent of poverty, and some states cover children from families with higher incomes. But in states that haven’t expanded Medicaid, eligibility for parents can be much lower. Across the 24 states that have not expanded Medicaid, large numbers of low-income parents don’t have any options for affordable health coverage.  

While every state Medicaid program covers some low-income parents, eligibility levels vary widely. The median Medicaid eligibility for parents in the 24 states that haven’t expanded Medicaid is 53 percent of poverty—that’s an annual income of just $10,490 for a family of three. In most states that haven’t expanded Medicaid, a large number of parents fall in the “coverage gap”—they make too much to qualify for the state’s Medicaid program but too little to qualify for tax credits to help pay for insurance in the marketplace. That leaves them with no affordable option for health insurance. That increases the likelihood that their children won’t be enrolled in the health coverage programs available to them.

States that expand Medicaid can extend Medicaid coverage to parents with incomes up to 138 percent of poverty, for which the federal government will pay virtually all of the costs. Parents with higher incomes qualify for tax credits to buy health insurance through the marketplace. 

Expanding Medicaid to more children is an investment in education and economic growth

The expansion of Medicaid gives parents options for affordable health coverage. When more parents enroll in health insurance, so do their kids, allowing them to reap the benefits associated with health coverage.

These benefits extend beyond access to health care, as the Cornell and Harvard researchers note in their study: “[T]he long-run returns to providing health insurance access to children are larger than just the…gains in health status.” 

Those returns include higher educational attainment and greater economic opportunities for children, and the creation of a more skilled workforce.  With these findings, it should be clear to policymakers that not only does expanding Medicaid close the coverage gap – it also increases the payback on their education investment.