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More than 9 in 10 US children had health insurance in 2011: report

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Between 2008 and 2011, the number of children under 18 covered by public insurance programs rose, while private insurance coverage rates dropped.

More than nine in 10 U.S. children were covered by health insurance in 2011, setting a record and underscoring the impact of government-sponsored insurance programs.

That's according to a new report from the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire, which conducts research on youth, families and community development.

Nearly 93 percent of children younger than 18 had health insurance in 2011, which marked an uptick of more than 2 percent since 2008. The report highlighted a trend of greater reliance on public insurance: In that three-year time period, the number of children covered by public insurance increased by more than 9 percent, while those covered by private insurance decreased by 5 percent.

That's likely due to "policies enacted to increase participation in government-sponsored health insurance programs," said the study's lead author, Michael Staley, in a statement. He's a research assistant at the Carsey Institute who specializes in sociology, and explained that a lot of people are taking jobs that don't offer sufficient health benefits, leading folks to turn to public programs.

Among the report's findings:

  • Every region in the U.S. saw a "modest increase" in children's health insurance coverage between 2010 and 2011 – with the exception of the Midwest.
  • Urban and rural areas in the West and the South experienced the greatest increases in coverage rates since 2008.
  • The percentage of children covered by public health insurance "increased substantially" for the fourth consecutive year in rural, urban and suburban areas.
  • Also for the fourth consecutive year, the rate of children covered by private insurance continued to drop.

The report's authors also mentioned that there's a "gap between participation rates and eligibility rates," meaning not all children who are eligible for public coverage are currently enrolled. There are a few reasons as to why that may be: Parents may "choose to abstain from federal insurance," or the uninsured may not know their options. Concerns among undocumented residents may be "particularly salient" – they may be unaware their children are eligible, or simply afraid of being deported.

If the trend of rising public insurance coverage rates among children continues, concluded the authors, "costs are likely to increase," despite the attempts of the Affordable Care Act to make health care more realistic for struggling families. In order to keep care accessible, state and federal governments ought to "find ways to control the cost of care," rather than shift "increased financial responsibility" to low-income families.

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