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Nearly 5 Million U.S. Children Uninsured

Nearly 5 million children are eligible for government-funded health insurance but remain uninsured, five years after the government created a program for kids in working poor families to complement Medicaid.

Nationally, an estimated 8.2 million children were without health insurance at the start of 2002 — almost 11 percent of all children. In Arkansas, 12.4 percent of children are uninsured. Nationally, more than half of them already are eligible for Medicaid, aimed at the poorest Americans, or the State Children's Health Insurance Program, known as CHIP, according to an analysis being released Thursday.

"If you could increase participation in these programs, you would deal with a large chunk of the uninsured problem," said John Holahan, a health economist at the Urban Institute who compiled the data for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

The foundation on Thursday was kicking off its Covering Kids campaign for the upcoming school year that works to publicize Medicaid and CHIP among parents and urges states to simplify enrollment procedures.

The number of uninsured children has dropped dramatically since CHIP was enacted in 1997. The program, which insures more than 3 million children, typically offers insurance on a sliding scale, with parents who earn more money paying a higher portion of the premium.

Over the past few years, several states have increased the number of families eligible for the program. Combined with Medicaid, more than 18 million children are now served by government-subsidized insurance.

At the same time, about 4.7 million children were eligible for Medicaid or CHIP but were not enrolled.

Experts cite several explanations. Some parents do not like the stigma of Medicaid, which for many years went hand-in-hand with welfare and is still aimed at the poorest Americans. In some states, families must re-enroll annually, creating coverage gaps. In some cases, parents might not know the programs exist.

"Many of the lives of these mothers are just kind of chaotic, and it's kind of hard for them to get the application, go down and fill it out," said Dr. Steven A. Schroeder, the foundation's president.