Almost All Illinois Children Covered by Health Insurance, Study Finds

09/28/2010

Four years after Illinois moved to expand access to affordable and comprehensive health care for children, over 95 percent of the state’s children are covered by health insurance, finds a scientist at the Institute for Health Research and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“Illinois is a leader in insuring children. We are close to the point of achieving universal coverage,” said Dianne Rucinski, an IHRP research scientist whose study was released online by the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services this summer.

Rucinski’s report meets a legislative mandate to study the impact of the state’s All Kids program, enacted in July 2006 to increase health care coverage for children. As part of her research, Rucinski directed a random-sample phone survey of 1,200 families throughout Illinois in late 2009 to early 2010. She conducted a survey of families whose children were enrolled in the All Kids program.

Rucinski estimates that 148,000 Illinois children, or 4.5 percent, were without health insurance at the time of the survey. Most children (1.6 million, or 48.9 percent) were covered under employer- or group-based private plans. All Kids covered about 1.3 million, or 40.1 percent, of the state’s children, and other public plans, through Medicare and military benefits, covered less than 3 percent.

By region, 4.6 percent of children in Cook County lacked health insurance coverage during the survey, while 5.0 percent of their peers in Chicago’s collar counties and 4.0 percent in the rest of the state did.

Some families without health insurance were in the one-year waiting period required before enrolling in All Kids. Other families, Rucinski said, were simply not aware of the program because they had never been part of the state’s “system” of publicly financed social programs.

“We haven’t yet figured out a good way of getting people that information at the point where the public health system thinks they need it, not when the parents think they need the care,” she said.

The state reports that enrollment for the All Kids program increased by more than 33 percent from June 30, 2006, to March 31, 2010.

Rucinski’s findings included:

  • Most parents used employer-sponsored insurance for their families, even when they qualified for public plans.
  • Children enrolled in the All Kids program were not more likely to have chronic health problems than their peers outside the program.
  • Parents of children in All Kids were more likely to report having a “medical home” for their child, and 80 percent of them reported that their child had a well-child visit in the previous year.
  • Families with children in All Kids who moved to Illinois after 2005 most commonly reported family reasons, not health insurance coverage, as a reason for the move.

Rucinski said the state’s experience offers important lessons to the national debate of improving health care access and to changing the national health care culture from focusing on treatment to focusing on prevention.

“Public programs modeled on state programs like Illinois’s All Kids provide a promising approach to providing coverage for populations at risk,” Rucinski said. “If states are able to follow through with this model of prevention over treatment, and to truly promote it in a way that, frankly, private health insurance companies never have done a good job doing, then everyone would win.”

Read the full report on the website of the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services at www.hfs.illinois.gov/assets/072010_akfinal.pdf.

This news release was written by Veronica Johnston, IHRP communications director.