Column: The new Kids Count report underscores longstanding health needs in Michigan

By Monique Stanton, Michigan Advance

At the Michigan League for Public Policy, we have been working since 1912 to improve public policy, including working on health care services, access and affordability. And this has been a big week for health issues and related data in Michigan. 

On Aug. 8, the latest national Kids Count rankings were released by our partners at the Annie E. Casey Foundation. And on Wednesday, the League hosted a virtual event in collaboration with Consumers for Quality Care, ACCESS, the Grand Rapids African-American Health Institute, and the Community Mental Health Association of Michigan to explore the results of a newly released survey detailing how Michigan residents feel about their ability to access and receive quality and affordable health care in our state.

In the 2022 national Kids Count Data Book, Michigan’s best national rank was 27th in health, and the state was the fourth-best in the country for “children without health insurance,” meaning the state insures more kids than a majority of the nation. Michigan saw a 40% decline in the number of kids without health insurance from 2008-12 to 2016-20. 

Year after year, Michigan stands out in children’s health and in making sure our kids have health insurance. But more work is still needed to increase health insurance coverage and reduce costs for all families.  

The EPIC MRA/Impact survey noted several important points about mental health and Michigan voters’ related concerns, and this is another issue that is facing Michigan kids as well as adults.

The national Kids Count Data Book noted that 13.5% of Michigan children ages 3 to 17 struggled with anxiety or depression in 2020. This rate was higher than the national average and higher than in 33 other states and the District of Columbia.

The state is making progress in addressing residents’ mental health needs, including $625 million in new investments for behavioral health funding and the healthcare workforce and $50 million for the Transforming Research into Action to Improve the Lives of Students (TRAILS) school mental health program received  to expand services to more schools in the 2023 state budget. 

But there’s still much more that needs to be done to tackle this anxiety and depression crisis. 

There are several other significant state and federal policies that directly connect to the concerns of Michigan voters and the needs of families and kids. Recently, Congress passed the Inflation Reduction Act that included $64 billion for a three-year extension of the American Rescue Plan’s expansion of the premium tax credits that make ACA marketplace coverage more affordable for low, moderate, and middle-income households. 

In our state, 271,000 Michiganders will benefit from the extension of Enhanced ACA Premium Tax Credits (Enhanced APTCs) and will be able to keep affordable health care coverage because of the IRA. And all Michiganders on Medicare stand to benefit from negotiation of drug prices and the $2,000 cap on out-of-pocket prescription drug costs included in the IRA.

The League and others, including the Michigan Poverty Task Force, also continue to advocate for Michigan to insure 3,000 to 4,000 young people by using the Immigrant Children’s Health Improvement Act (ICHIA) option to waive the five-year waiting period for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for lawfully residing children and youth up to 21 years old.

From youth mental health and insurance coverage to out-of-pocket costs and access to services, health policy needs are clearly on the minds of Michigan kids, families and voters. These needs are also on the ballot, as the state and federal lawmakers we elect will be charged with tackling many of the above policy needs and more. The pandemic exposed many longstanding health needs. Our policymakers have largely risen to meet them, but that attention and momentum must continue well beyond the current health crisis if we’re going to curb or prevent future ones.

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