By Seth Klamann
Via Wyoming News Exchange
CASPER — With a rate of uninsured children that’s double the national average, Wyoming was ranked second to last in the United States for children’s health in a national study for the second consecutive year.
Overall, the Equality State ranked 21st for children’s well-being on the Kids Count report, which is released in June by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and assesses each state based on multiple children-related categories. Wyoming’s 2019 ranking is a slight drop from last year’s ranking of 18, itself an improvement from 2017’s 27th place finish.
The rankings are established using four categories — economic well-being, education, health, and family and community — each of which has four indicators. Wyoming ranked 14th for both education and economics, while it cracked the top 10 with a 9th place ranking for family.
The report compares the state to the national average and to previous data, often from 2010. The data from the 2019 report is from 2017, a data-lag common in reports like this.
In many cases, Wyoming had improved from its years-ago self. Between 2008 and 2012, for instance, 3 percent of the state’s children lived in poverty. Between 2013 and 2017, that dropped to less than half of 1 percent. There were fewer children in single-parent families in 2017 than the national average, and Wyoming beat both its 2010 figures and the 2017 national benchmark in the percentage of kids where the household head didn’t graduate from high school.
There was more growth in education. Wyoming had improved in all four indicators — young children not in school; fourth-graders not proficient in reading; eighth-graders not proficient in math; and high schoolers who don’t graduate on time — in recent years. In 2017, Wyoming had better rates than the national average in all four categories.
“Stakeholders and legislators and policymakers can look at investments made in education that are paying off now,” said Samin Dadelahi, the chief operating officer of the Wyoming Community Foundation. The group provides Wyoming data for the report. “It makes you think about, ‘Should we be making more investments in education or this is the time to really be cutting education?’”
The good news ends at the health section of the state’s report card. While there’s been growth compared to previous years here, Wyoming consistently lags behind the national average when it comes to treating children. The state is just above the national average on low birth-weight babies, and has a higher rate of teen and childhood death than the rest of the country. More teens here also abuse alcohol and drugs than the national average.
Most alarming is the rate of uninsured here: Roughly 14,000 Wyoming kids, or 10 percent of the juvenile population in 2017, lacked health insurance. That’s double the national average of 5 percent, a figure that has been dropping steadily in recent years. Wyoming’s, meanwhile, has gone up consistently. The rate was 8 percent in 2015, then 9 percent in 2016 and is now 10 percent.
That’s likely not been impacted by Wyoming’s decision to avoid expanding Medicaid, health officials said. Kids here can likely get covered by CHIP or Medicaid, federal programs that provide insurance. Medicaid in Wyoming is difficult for adults to qualify for because of the state’s decision not to expand the program. But enrolling in either CHIP or Medicaid is easier for juveniles.
A family of four, for instance, can earn $51,500 annually, and their child can qualify for CHIP.
Dadelahi said the common figure among states that fared poorly on the health part of the report are that they’re rural. Alaska is ranked last, while other Mountain West states like New Mexico, Nevada and Montana all appear near the bottom of the list.
It’s just unclear why. Montana, Nevada, New Mexico and Alaska all expanded Medicaid, for instance. Dadelahi said she had no theories that explained why Wyoming had so many uninsured children. But she said enrollment can be daunting and receiving access to care in a rural state can be difficult.