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Friday, June 25, 2010

The 'Mass.' appeal of covering kids

Those of you who have followed health reform have probably heard a lot about Massachusetts’ historic health reform law that passed in 2006—what’s going well, what could be done better, and what it might mean for health reform implementation around the country. We’ve even blogged about it this month.

But a new study by researchers at the Urban Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation was just too exciting not to share. The study found that Massachusetts’ health reform cut the uninsurance rate for children approximately in half in the first two years following implementation. The state now has the lowest rate of uninsurance among children in the nation.

Compared to the national average, Massachusetts is significantly ahead of the rest of the country in covering its residents–especially children. According to the report, as of 2008, only 95.9 percent of all state residents and 97.8 percent of children in the state were insured compared to 84.9 percent and 89.1 percent, respectively, nationwide.

How did they do it? The authors point to three major changes:

(1) Expanding CHIP: The state expanded eligibility from twice to three times the federal poverty level (from $36,620 to $54,903 for a family of three in 2010), making many more low-income children eligible to enroll.

(2) Expanding coverage for parents: Massachusetts also expanded parents’ coverage through public programs, such as Commonwealth Care, and through an insurance exchange and insurance market reforms. The health reform law also requires that adults obtain health coverage. These changes led to fewer children being uninsured because as more parents gained coverage, their children did too.

(3) Simplifying enrollment: The state ramped up community-based outreach and simplified the application requirements, which helped make it easier for families to get themselves and their kids coverage.

This is good news for children in Massachusetts, but it’s also excellent news for children and families all over the country because many of the reforms Massachusetts implemented are similar to those in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that President Obama signed into law in March. As more parents are able to afford health coverage—either through Medicaid expansions, the exchange, or because of new insurance regulations—more children are likely to get covered, too. And if states implement simplified, streamlined enrollment, even more people will enroll.

Making sure that every child gets a fair chance to access affordable health care should be a priority for every state. And as state officials move ahead with implementing the Affordable Care Act, they should look at Massachusetts as a great example of how to do it right.