EBRI Issue Brief

Expanding Health Insurance for Children: Examining the Alternatives

Jul 1, 1997 24  pages


  • This Issue Brief examines the issue of uninsured children. The budget reconciliation legislation currently under congressional consideration earmarks $16 billion for new initiatives to provide health insurance coverage to approximately 5 million of the 10 million uninsured children during the next five years. Proposals to expand coverage among children include the use of tax credits, subsidies, vouchers, Medicaid program expansion, and expansion of state programs. However, these proposals do not address the decline in employment-based health insurance coverage—the underlying cause of the lack of coverage, to the extent that a cause can be identified. What is worse, some proposals to expand health insurance among children may discourage employers from offering coverage.
  • Between 1987 and 1995, the percentage of children with employment-based health insurance declined from 66.7 percent to 58.6 percent. Despite this trend, the percentage of children without any form of health insurance coverage barely increased. In 1987, 13.1 percent of children were uninsured, compared with 13.8 percent in 1995. Medicaid program expansions helped to alleviate the effects of the decline in employment-based health insurance coverage among children and the potential increase in the number of uninsured children. Between 1987 and 1995, the percentage of children enrolled in the Medicaid program increased from 15.5 percent to 23.2 percent.
  • Some questions to consider in assessing approaches to improving children's health insurance coverage include the following: If the government intervenes, should it do so through a compulsory mechanism or a voluntary system? Is the employment-based system "worth saving" for children? In other words, are the market interventions necessary to keep this system functioning for children too regulatory, too intrusive, and too cumbersome to be practical? In addition to reforming the employment-based system, what reforms are necessary in order to reach those families who have no coverage through the work place? Which approaches are both efficient and politically acceptable?
  • Employment-based coverage of children will likely continue. The challenge for lawmakers is to find a way to cover more uninsured children without eroding employment-based coverage. Several current legislative proposals attempt to avoid this problem by excluding children who have access to employment-based coverage. Without such a requirement, the opportunity to purchase coverage at a discount would create incentives for some low-income employees to drop dependent/family coverage, which in turn could lead some employers to drop their health plans.