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updated: 3/6/2014 5:34 PM

Rate of uninsured children drops, but demographic disparity grows

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By Marty Hobe

The number of children who have health insurance coverage was rising before the new federal health care law took effect this year, and the suburbs saw some of the highest gains, a report released Thursday said.

Voices for Illinois Children, a statewide research organization for children's health, found that between 2006 and 2010 the rate of uninsured children dropped from 10.2 percent to 4 percent, helped by state and federal medical assistance programs for children.

The report said between 2005 and 2012, enrollment in medical assistance programs increased by 122 percent in the collar counties, which helps explain the drop in uninsured kids.

The new federal health care law, the report says, will help by guaranteeing coverage for children with pre-existing conditions and preventing insurance companies from dropping coverage when a child gets sick.

Some of the biggest drops in the rate of uninsured children in the state were in the collar counties, especially in Lake County, where the rate of uninsured children fell by more than 8 percentage points to 3.6 percent.

Kane, McHenry, Kendall and Will counties all had drops around 7 percentage points and Cook and DuPage saw their rates of uninsured children drop by about 6 percentage points.

However, Cook and Kane counties are still among the highest rates of uninsured children in Illinois. Cook has a rate of 4.7 percent, which is second highest in the state, and Kane's rate of uninsured children is 4.5 percent.

The report also found a disparity between white and minority children that are uninsured. In 2012, 4.4 percent of black children and 4.2 percent of Latino children were uninsured, while only 2.6 percent of white children were without coverage.

Republican state Rep. Sam Yingling said he sees the disparity in "economically challenged areas" in his district, including his town of Round Lake Beach, which is a low income community with an unemployment rate around 14 percent.

Yingling said in order to combat the disparity, local programs in his district run by the townships should be taken off the budget chopping block.

"As we move forward with the budget process, we have to, as a body, recognize the fact that we cannot accept this growing disparity and that's something we will have to prioritize," Yingling said.

The drop in uninsured children came as the number of children in poverty has risen in the suburbs, the report said. In Lake County, more than 10,000 more children were living in poverty in 2011 than there were in 2006. In DuPage County, 9,000 more children were living in poverty.

However, the report said the enrollment rate in medical assistance programs has increased by about 50 percent from 171,900 in 2006 to 340,700 in 2012.

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