CARSON CITY, Nevada — An annual health survey of Nevada kindergartners shows a big drop in the percentage of children without health insurance, a change that researchers attribute to more use of Medicaid benefits.
The seventh annual report from the Nevada Institute for Children's Research and Policy at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, showed 7.6 percent of kindergartners were uninsured last school year, down from 12.6 percent a year earlier.
"We're very glad that it seems more families have more coverage," said Amanda Haboush-Deloye, the lead researcher on the project.
But her team is looking into whether the quality and accessibility of health care is keeping pace with quantity. The survey found that the number of children receiving Medicaid rose about 5 percentage points year-over-year to 31.3 percent, while the number of children with private insurance dropped about 1.5 percentage points to 48.4 percent.
A recent study based on the survey suggested public health care users had less access to care than those using private insurance. Haboush-Deloye said that could be because doctors choose not to accept clients with Medicaid because they're reimbursed less for the care.
The shortage of Medicaid providers could mean fewer available appointments and longer wait times. Without timely care, "the coverage isn't meaningful," she said.
Haboush-Deloye said other barriers to care can crop up even among insured patients. She pointed to rising health insurance deductibles that force families to pay more money out-of-pocket and can deter them from visiting the doctor.
The group's study also touched on childhood obesity and found a slight increase in the percentage of kindergartners who are at an unhealthy weight. The percentage of underweight children went up slightly to 16.1 percent, and the percentage of overweight children went up slightly to 31.5 percent.
The rate has remained more or less steady, but that's not necessarily a good thing.
"We're not moving the dial," Haboush-Deloye said. "The things that we are doing are not making a large-level impact."
She said changes are needed at schools and at home, and adults need to model healthy, active lifestyles for children instead of just talking about it.
The report is based on a questionnaire distributed to parents of Nevada kindergartners in fall 2014. More than 7,000 surveys were returned.
Haboush-Deloye said this year's surveys have been disbursed in 16 of the state's 17 school districts, but researchers are still waiting to see whether Clark County School District — Nevada's largest — will participate again.