Family Medicine|March 10, 2011 7:04 PM

More Colorado children covered by health insurance — as poverty and aid rise

The annual Kids Count report found the number of Colorado children living in poverty jumped, allowing more to qualify for government-sponsored health insurance. Photo: Courtesy Kids Count.

More Colorado children were covered by health insurance in 2009 than a year earlier — but that’s partly because more sunk into poverty and became  eligible for governmen aid.

According to the 2011 Kids Count report, the number of Colorado’s children living in poverty jumped by 31,000, as a result of the recession that rendered more Colorado residents jobless.

But 42,000 more Colorado children found health insurance from 2008 to 2009, according to the 18th annual Kids Count report, compiled by the Colorado Children’s Campaign.  The report authors attribute that increase, in part, to the rise in children living in poverty – which would increase the number of children eligible for public insurance programs.

It’s also due to federal laws that increased access to insurance, including the Child Health Insurance Reauthorization Act of 2009, and recently enacted state laws like Covering All Kids and the Colorado Health Care Affordability Act.

Federal guidelines define the poverty level for a family of four as earning $22,050 or less annually.

Colorado Children’s Campaign President Chris Watney said Thursday it was the earliest data showing how the recession has impacted the state’s children. The recession officially lasted from December 2007 to June 2009.

“While economists proclaimed the end of the Great Recession more than a year ago, the end was nowhere in sight for many Colorado families, and especially for our children,” Watney said at a press conference at the state capitol.

The number of children living in poverty jumped from 179,000 in 2008 to 210,000 in 2009. That’s 17 percent of Colorado’s children living in poverty, compared to the national rate of 20 percent, the report states.

From 2000 to 2009, the number of children in Colorado living in poverty more than doubled – rising at a faster rate than any other state, according to the report. The number of children living in extreme poverty, defined as $11,000 annual income for a family of four, jumped by 30,000 kids in that same time period – from 65,000 to 95,000.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program: Average Monthly Participation (Persons). Click chart to view source data.

“Kids Count allows us to set not only benchmarks today, but to begin to look back at benchmarks from previous years, and say where we succeeded and where we failed, and how do we begin adjusting and creating remedies so we correct what we clearly see as deficiencies,” said Gov. John Hickenlooper, who attended the press conference with his family.

Hickenlooper didn’t cite specific deficiencies Thursday, but he talked about the report addressing quality of life issues for the state’s children, which would affect the economy.

“These disparities aren’t just unfair to kids,” he said. “In a very real way they have significant impacts on our state’s economy … Quality of life is a significant driver of our businesses that are here, and whether a business would want to move here or open an office here. Or if an entrepreneur wants to build his business and life here. They are always going to ask the quality-of-life question: How are our kids doing?”

Other news in the report:

·        The number of obese children in the state jumped from 22 percent in 2003 to 27 percent in 2010. “Colorado’s childhood overweight and obesity rate increased second fastest in the nation, behind only Nevada.”

·        The state ranks 46th in the nation for affordable, full-time infant daycare, which eats up an estimated 44 percent of a single-parent household’s income.

·        Last year, more than 18,000 public school students were homeless, a 53 percent increase from the 2006-2007 school year.

·       The  percentage of immunized 2-year-olds dropped from 74 percent ot 65 percent.

The report provides important data about how our children are faring on a number of factors and most importantly, where the best opportunities exist to improve their lives,” Watney said. “Particularly in times of budget cuts and hard choices, reliable data are indispensable for wise decisions.”

Watney pointed to Weld County United Way officials using the report a number of years ago to launch a prenatal care educational effort after it showed pregnant women there were not getting the care they should.

The Kids Count report “allows us to squeeze the maximum benefit we possibly can out of every public dollar,” said Hickenlooper, whose wife Helen Thorpe serves on the Colorado Children’s Campaign board.

The report was compiled with grants from the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Gay & Lesbian Fund for Colorado, using data from U.S. Census Bureau surveys, school reports and other sources. It tracked some 40 indicators, including dropout rates and access to health care.

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