hed Report: Enrollment up among kids who qualify for Medicaid in S.C.

A draft copy of the 21-page Health and Human Services Department form proposed for use to apply for low-cost insurance from Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Nearly nine in 10 children in South Carolina who qualified for either Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program were enrolled in one of those plans in 2011, according to a report published Wednesday by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Urban Institute.

Still, at 86 percent, South Carolina’s rate of eligible children who are enrolled in a plan is slightly lower than the national average, 87.2 percent.

But S.C. Department of Health and Human Services Director Tony Keck says South Carolina’s rate has improved since then and probably exceeds 90 percent now.

“The tough thing with those reports is they are always a year or two behind on that data,” Keck said. “Our data is obviously a lot more current.”

Recent efforts by the agency to simplify enrollment and streamline re-enrollment for children have grown the state’s Medicaid roster by 100,000 since 2010, he said.

Medicaid provides health insurance for some residents with low income. CHIP covers children whose families earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, but too little to pay for private insurance. Both programs are paid for with a combination of state and federal funds.

Children whose parents earn up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $47,000 a year per family of four, qualify for Medicaid or CHIP in this state.

According to state data, about 566,000 children were enrolled in a health insurance plan through the S.C. Medicaid agency during the 2013 fiscal year, up from about 525,000 in 2012. Preliminary projections this year show more than 596,000 children are enrolled in a plan through the agency and that enrollment has grown nearly 23 percent among children in this state between 2010 and 2013.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Urban Institute report, which includes data from all states, shows improvement isn’t isolated to South Carolina. Participation in Medicaid and CHIP is up among children across the country since 2008.

The number of eligible-but-unenrolled children across the country dropped from 4.9 million to 4 million between 2008 and 2011. The percentage of eligible children who enrolled climbed from an average 81.7 percent in the U.S. in 2008 to 87.2 percent in 2011.

“These findings suggest that the increased state and federal policy efforts aimed at reducing the number of eligible-but-uninsured children have been yielding results,” the study’s authors wrote.

Enrolling children in a health insurance plan becomes mandatory next year under the federal Affordable Care Act, which establishes financial penalties — $47.50 per unenrolled child — for parents who do not enroll their children in a policy. Adults are also required to buy a health insurance policy next year and face a $95 penalty for not complying with the law.

Keck said South Carolina estimates that 170,000 adults and children who are currently eligible but not enrolled in Medicaid will sign up in this state next year.

Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.