As Louisiana children head back to school this month, there’s one thing that is critical to each student’s success that’s not on their teacher’s list of required school supplies: health insurance. Fortunately, almost all children in the state (97.6 percent) have coverage – with more than half of them getting it through Louisiana’s Medicaid program.

As of June 2018, 725,000 Louisiana children had health insurance via Medicaid, which is funded through a state and federal partnership and provides health insurance to children whose families don’t earn enough to afford private coverage. Medicaid coverage guarantees children can get all of the health services they need, including preventive care, immunizations, necessary treatment and developmental screenings. Well-child visits and screenings are especially important because they help to identify physical and behavioral health issues that impact a child’s ability to learn and succeed in school and can be costly to treat later if they go undetected.

Students in every Louisiana parish benefit from Medicaid, but a greater percentage of children in rural areas receive their health insurance through Medicaid than in urban and suburban parts of the state. Nearly 3 out of every 4 students (74.1 percent) in Claiborne Parish School District get health insurance through Medicaid (or the publicly-funded Children’s Health Insurance Program, which serves children with household incomes just above the Medicaid eligibility limit) – the highest percentage in the state. West Carroll Parish School District has the lowest percentage of students on Medicaid, but even there the program covers more than 1 in 4 students (25.7 percent) in the district.

(Source: Georgetown Center for Children and Families analysis of American Community Survey data, 5-year estimates 2012-2016, includes children enrolled in Medicaid and LaCHIP)

In addition to helping Louisiana’s children become school-ready, Medicaid also helps many Louisiana children access health services when they’re at school. School-based health centers and school nurses throughout the state provide care that is paid for by Medicaid. There are 63 school-based health sites in Louisiana that provide health services to low-income and special education students during the school day. This greatly reduces barriers to necessary health services, including transportation challenges and limited availability of speciality health care providers in underserved communities.

Research shows that having health insurance through Medicaid has both short and long-term benefits for children and their families. Children with Medicaid are significantly more likely to have a regular source of care and have significantly better health outcomes than to children who are uninsured. Medicaid is also linked to reduced rates of medical debt and bankruptcy. One study found that expanded Medicaid eligibility for children led to a decrease in the high school dropout rate, increase in college enrollment, and increase in the four-year college attainment rate.

Medicaid is an invaluable resource for Louisiana kids and families. As they head back to the classroom this fall, it’s important to acknowledge the critical role the program plays in getting more than half of the state’s children prepared to enter and succeed in school.

-by Jeanie Donovan