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1 in 12 ND children uninsured

Despite officials saying Wednesday that the percentage of uninsured children in North Dakota is less than the national average, the actual number -- 12,000 children -- is still big.

"Nationally, it is about 9.9 percent, so we are below national averages, which is obviously great," said Richard Rathge, the North Dakota State Data Center director at North Dakota State University. "Still, you are talking about a relatively large number of kids, even though it is about 8 percent."

Based on a three-year average from 2008 to 2010, the U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that one out of 12 children age 17 or younger were uninsured in the state, according to a press release. Texas had the highest percentage at 16.9 percent while Massachusetts was the lowest with 3.4 percent.

Rathge said the number of uninsured children has relatively stayed the same in the state. The only significant change was Hawaii, with a 1.5 percent decrease in uninsured children through the three-year average, according to the press release.

Different factors play into insuring and not insuring children. The ability to buy insurance is based on income, Rathge said. He added insurance is expensive, but taking a chance could be costly.

"If a person is uninsured for health, they have to make a decision on a health issue to go in and get some medical care and pay a premium," he said. "If they are kind of living on the edge, that can be a pretty dramatic decision. It's a function of whether we put bread on the table or go to the doctor."

North Dakota insurance rates have gone up 10 percent to 15 percent in the last year, said Iggy Weigel, a licensed insurance broker in Dickinson. He said he thought the number of uninsured children will stay close to the same.

"Most of them are just waiting for the big changes to come, I guess," he said in regards to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which takes full effect in 2014.

Families that aren't insured may qualify for Medicaid, said Marci Decker, the Stark County eligibility supervisor. More than 200 households with children receive Medicaid in Stark County, and 51 households are on Healthy Steps, North Dakota's health insurance plan for children age 19 and under.

Decker said another reason people don't have insurance is because they cannot apply for it.

"If you are not working full-time for an employer ... you probably aren't eligible for insurance," she said.

Decker said there are probably children in Stark County that are not covered by health insurance or Medicaid. Income may be too high to qualify for Medicaid, and some parents may not know they can apply for it, how to apply or know that it is available.

"With the rising costs of everything in our community, they probably feel like they can't afford to pay that extra money to have their children covered," she said.

Kari Lutz, the Early Head Start health coordinator, said the rate of uninsured children in the county has stayed the same, though a lot of children are on Medicaid.

She added parents may not look for assistance because time and convenience are factors.

"If we could just get more parents to go in and try, there is probably a lot that could qualify for Medicaid or assistance that aren't actually even trying," she said. "It just seems like they are so busy."