WV’s Opioid Crisis Impacts Surge of Kids without Health Coverage

Tuesday 13th of October 2020
An estimated 13,000 kids in West Virginia didn't have health insurance in 2019, a number that likely has increased since the pandemic, a new report finds. (Adobe Stock)
An estimated 13,000 kids in West Virginia didn’t have health insurance in 2019, a number that likely has increased since the pandemic, a new report finds. (Adobe Stock)

October 12, 2020

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Even before the pandemic recession, West Virginia had seen a serious increase in the number of children without health insurance. Now, that number is expected to be even worse, according to a new report.

In 2019, an estimated 13,000 kids in the Mountain State went without health coverage, an almost 45% hike in three years, according to a Georgetown University Center for Children and Families report. Jessica Ice, executive director at West Virginians for Affordable Healthcare, said it’s one of the highest increases in the nation – and she’s concerned the lack of coverage will have long-term repercussions.

“We know there’s numerous studies that tell us that kids who get their regular health care – their well-child visits, their vaccinations – that they perform better in school, they go on to live more successful lives,” Ice said.

She said the state’s opioid crisis, which caused a growth in the number of foster kids, played a major role in the lack of coverage, as children can fall out of the healthcare system when being shuffled between foster homes.

West Virginia’s rate of uninsured kids was below the national average, but it increased more than a full percentage point from 2016 to 2019.

Joan Alker, executive director of the Georgetown Center, pointed out the Trump administration’s attempts to take apart the Affordable Care Act – including eliminating funding for outreach – may have discouraged families from trying to get coverage.

“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 said.

Nationwide, about 4 million children didn’t have health insurance in 2019, an increase of about 726,000. The report says this reverses years of national progress, wiping out much of the gain in coverage since the Affordable Care Act took effect in 2014.

Disclosure: Georgetown University Center for Children & Families contributes to our fund for reporting on Children’s Issues, Health Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Diane Bernard, Public News Service – WV