By Mike Moen, Greater Dakota News Service
Despite a pre-pandemic period of economic stability, the number of South Dakota children lacking health coverage spiked between 2016 and 2019.
And amid the COVID-19 crisis, a new report raises concerns about the situation worsening.
The latest findings from the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families show South Dakota’s rate of uninsured children skyrocketed by more than 60%, the largest increase in the nation.
Xanna Burg, KIDS COUNT coordinator for South Dakota, said because this data is pre-pandemic, they don’t know how many more families have lost coverage. But she added there’s real concern the number is growing.
“We do know that families are struggling,” Burg asserted. “You know people are losing their jobs and with it, the health insurance that came with those jobs. “
Prior to the increase, the rate of uninsured children in South Dakota had fallen to its lowest level.
The data comes as some groups call for a Medicaid expansion in South Dakota. Petitions will soon be circulated for a ballot question in 2022.
Joan Alker, executive director of the Georgetown Center for Children and Families, pointed to the Trump administration’s efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.
She said a key factor has been eliminating most of the funding for outreach and “navigators” to help people enroll.
“Families have been getting negative messages that coverage is going away at the same time that community-based resources to help them find public coverage have shrunk,” Alker contended.
Burg said that’s why a Medicaid expansion, and enhanced outreach from the state for initiatives like the Children’s Health Insurance Program, might help stem the tide of children and families going without coverage.
“South Dakota should double down on outreach to families who are eligible but not enrolled in Medicaid or CHIP, particularly during the pandemic when we know more families are struggling,” Burg urged.
The report’s authors say states have a lot of power to help reverse the situation.
According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, South Dakota hasn’t adopted any of the targeted strategies designed to boost enrollment in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.