Medicaid & CHIP: Success Stories for Kids

August 4, 2015

It’s easy to be cynical about Washington, but every now and then Americans need to be reminded that the nation’s leaders do in fact do things that improve people’s lives. There was no place better to get that reminder than in an office building across the street from the U.S. Capitol.

In a meeting room at the Rayburn House Office Building, about 60 policy wonks (primarily congressional staffers and youth advocates) gathered to see data showing that more children have health insurance – and, more importantly, are using health care – because of two government programs: Medicaid and CHIP.

Medicaid expanded for children in the 1980s and early 1990s, while CHIP (the Children’s Health Insurance Program) was added in 1997. Among the results, according to Genevieve M. Kenney, co-director of the Urban Institute’s Health Policy Center: The rates of uninsured children have dropped since 1998 (from 12.7 percent to 5.4 percent), while the rates and numbers of insured children have risen steadily. In 2013, Medicaid covered 38.7 million children, while CHIP covered 8.1 million.

“These programs have had tremendous reach when it comes to our nation’s children,” Kenney told the gathering, which was organized by the Congressional Allergy & Asthma Caucus, the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

To be sure, “coverage does not equal access,” as noted by another speaker, Dr. Joseph Wright, chairman of pediatrics at the Howard University College of Medicine. For youth in low-income families, the availability of nearby providers remains a major barrier to getting health care.

Nevertheless, more insurance seems to have improved access in some areas. (Here, advocates credit the Affordable Care Act as well.) From 2000 to 2014, Kenney said, a greater percentage of children covered by Medicaid and CHIP were reported by their parents to have seen a general doctor and a dentist within the past year, and to have a “usual source of care,” while a smaller percentage delayed health care.

The nation has a long way to go toward health care equity. Dr. Wright noted that the country has yet to dent the disparities in health care access among racial and income groups; a child’s race, family income and community still largely determine access to care.

But the event – coinciding with the anniversary of Medicaid (signed into law on July 30, 1965) – was a good way to pause and appreciate.

For more data and articles about the importance of Medicaid and CHIP for children, go to the home page of First Focus, the bipartisan advocacy organization dedicated to making children and families the priority in federal policy and budget decisions.


Patrick Boyle is the Forum for Youth Investment's communications director and a veteran journalist on youth issues. You can reach him at patrick[@]


Patrick Boyle