Booster Shots

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Insured parents can't always cover kids

October 21, 2008 | 12:08 pm

It's a grueling decision when a working parent looks at the company's benefit package and sees that, on average, a family health insurance plan, costing a total $12,106, will mean $3,281 deducted from yearly wages. Another option for that worker is to insure only himself or herself, costing a total of $4,479 for individual coverage, and resulting in a yearly paycheck deduction of $694. Those average cost figures are from a Kaiser Family Foundation September survey.

A study released today by the Journal of the American Medical Assn. found that, of the 9 million children and adolescents in the U.S. who have no health insurance coverage, 28% have an insured parent.

Since the 1996 passage of a law aimed at getting more kids insured, even when their parents are not, the number of insured children has increased. A 2007 Los Angeles Times story examined the State Children's Health Insurance Program. Still, 9 million U.S. children have no health insurance.

Now, researchers from Oregon Health and Science University examined the flip side of the issue: children who have at least one insured parent, but remain uninsured themselves. It turns out that more than a quarter of children who have no coverage have a parent who is covered, and the authors put the blame on the high cost of premiums for family coverage.

Researchers from the Portland university examined records of more than 39,000 young people under age 19 and found that nearly 1,400 were uninsured. Of those without coverage, 28% had an insured parent. 

“When weighted, these estimates represent 3 million children who had a coverage gap despite having at least 1 parent who had full-year coverage. More than a million of these children were without coverage for the entire year,” the researchers write. "In this study, the private system did not do a good job of providing coverage for entire families.”

It's clear from the study that when it comes time to sign up for employer benefits, or individual health insurance, some people have to make the difficult decision to leave some family members out.

-- Susan Brink