What’s Good for the Parent is Good for the Child: Access to Health Care Coverage Benefits the Whole Family

By Christine Johnson-Staub and Hannah Matthews

Despite a slow start, hundreds of thousands of uninsured or underinsured adults are now logging on or visiting neighborhood enrollment sites to find out how to purchase affordable health care as a result of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The uninsured and underinsured in this country include working adults, middle-income families, and low-income children, according to a recent fact sheet published by the Center for Children and Families at Georgetown University.

Supporting healthy children isn’t just about health coverage for kids. Covering parents is good for children too. Parents’ access to health care supports effective parenting, while untreated physical and mental health problems can get in the way. The whole family is also more likely to be financially stable as the burdens of unexpected health problems and related costs are lifted.

In addition to making health insurance more affordable for middle-class families, the ACA offers an opportunity for states to expand coverage for low-income parents and other adults through Medicaid. Prior to the ACA, the median Medicaid eligibility limit for a working parent was just 61 percent of the federal poverty level, about $14,890 for a family of three. In states adopting the expansion option, Medicaid will now cover adults up to 138 percent of the poverty level, or $33,685 for a family of three. To date, about half the states have opted to extend Medicaid coverage to more low-income adults or are still deciding. Children and adults in these states will benefit by living in healthier families. The 21 states that have so far decided against implementing the expansion include almost six million uninsured parents, and 3.5 million uninsured children who could benefit from their parents’ accessing affordable health care.

Covering more parents also means that more children will be insured. Although most low-income children were eligible for publicly funded health care prior to the ACA, many fell through the cracks and remained uncovered. By reaching out to their parents and enrolling them in Medicaid, states can increase the odds that children will  get enrolled as well, making it easier for them to see pediatricians regularly and get recommended and critical services such as well visits, preventive care, treatment for emerging health issues, and developmental screening and services.

As the Affordable Care Act is implemented nationwide, more states should take advantage of this opportunity to help connect parents and their children to better health care options, supporting children’s growth and development and strengthening the whole family. Professionals in the early childhood field can also benefit from understanding what assistance the law offers to the children and  families they serve, along with how the law may be helpful to the early childhood educators, themselves. To learn more about how the ACA impacts child care and early education providers, view CLASP’s recent presentation or join this upcoming Administration for Children and Families webinar.