RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — More than 10 percent of children in seven of North Carolina’s counties lack health insurance, according to figures from a nonprofit group that advocates for children.
NC Child unveiled a data dashboard Monday that breaks down several of its key wellbeing indicators at the county level by race and ethnic group.
It comes a month after the group issued its report card for the entire state, giving North Carolina four failing grades.
“I think it’s really important for folks to be able to tell and understand the local story of what’s happening with kids in North Carolina,” said Vikki Crouse, a project director for the group. She says the numbers show “just how vast the disparities are from rural counties, urban counties, from the Northeast to the Southeast part of our state.”
Among the measures tracked by the group: Family income, hunger, reading level and health insurance coverage.
“The health insurance data was particularly concerning,” Crouse said.
The group found seven counties — mostly in the state’s northeast corner — where more than 1 in 10 children don’t have health coverage. In Swain County in the western mountains, 22 percent of children lack health insurance.
There also appeared to be splits among other demographic divisors: Of all counties where the uninsured rate exceeds the statewide average of 5 percent, all but two are considered rural counties.
And half of Latino parents across the state have no health insurance coverage, compared to less than 10 percent of white parents.
“Those numbers really tell us what are some of the pieces at play here, right? There’s something else beyond … that’s affecting how certain communities are able to access health care,” Crouse said. “So for Latino families, that may be the high costs of premiums that aren’t accessible for a lot of folks. But also immigration status can be a barrier to accessing affordable forms of health care.”
The group also found many of the counties with the highest rates of child hunger are located in eastern North Carolina, with Crouse saying one explanation could be that grocery stores and food banks aren’t as readily accessible in those rural areas as they are in other parts of the state.
Perhaps more concerning, the data behind the dashboard predates the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning the numbers could look even worse over the next year or two. The current numbers should be the “baseline for recovery,” Crouse said.
“We know that North Carolina has been had been recovering from the Great Recession over the past decade or so,” Crouse said. “And that recovery was not the same. It wasn’t equal across all counties. And so we knew already that there were slower growth in urban and rural counties.”
The county comparisons are also a zero-sum game — some counties have to be the best, others the worst.
“When it comes to things like food insecurity and health insurance, these are things that are basic needs, and that every family every child should have access to, we don’t have a strict number,” Crouse said. “The closer we can get to 100 percent, for things like food access and health insurance, I think that that would be wonderful. That’s a dream.”
So, what’s the solution?
The group wants lawmakers to expand Medicaid, saying the recent COVID-19 recovery act includes incentives for that for North Carolina and other states. It also wants the General Assembly to spend more on education and nutrition programs.
“Those sorts of supports that really help working families be able to eventually have some economic mobility and in the interim, be at least able to put food on the table and keep their kids healthy,” Crouse said.