Children's Health

To survive and thrive, all children need access to comprehensive, affordable health coverage that is easy to get and keep. Unmet health and mental health needs can result in children falling behind developmentally and having trouble catching up physically, socially and academically. Poor children and children of color have worse access to health care and as a result often start life several steps behind their wealthier and healthier White peers. This is why the Children’s Defense Fund works to ensure all children have access to child-specific health coverage that is affordable for families. Thanks in large part to Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), today, the number of uninsured children is at a historic low. We are working to protect those gains. We must not move backward. Instead we must work to expand health coverage for the remaining uninsured children, keep all children enrolled in coverage, and ensure timely access to appropriate pediatric care.

Children's Health Coverage in the United States

Today, the number of uninsured children is at a historic low. Thanks in large part to Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which provide comprehensive and affordable health coverage to more than 44 million children (57 percent of all children), and to the new coverage options offered by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), 94 percent of all children have access to health coverage. However, many children eligible for Medicaid and CHIP remain uninsured. 

Depending largely on family income, immigration status, and whether the family has an offer of affordable employer-sponsored coverage, in the post-ACA world, most insured children will have one of three types of coverage: Medicaid or CHIP, employer-sponsored insurance or ACA marketplace.

Medicaid and CHIP

Medicaid and CHIP provide comprehensive health coverage to millions of people in America — including more than 44 million children under age 19 — who would otherwise be unable to afford health coverage.

A child’s eligibility for Medicaid and CHIP is primarily based on family income and assets, set by the states within broad federal guidelines. The result is a wide variety in coverage from state to state, from a few that meet or barely exceed minimum federal requirements to others that go far beyond to cover more children.

Medicaid is the single largest health insurer for children, providing virtually no cost health coverage to more than 36 million low-income children and children with disabilities. Medicaid coverage is comprehensive, covering all medically necessary services children need to survive and thrive. The ACA requires states to cover children up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level under Medicaid, but as mentioned above, many states go beyond that to cover children at higher incomes. The ACA also allows children in foster care on their 18th birthday to continue Medicaid coverage to age 26. Importantly, the ACA encouraged states to expand Medicaid to low-income adults, which also increases child health coverage, as insured parents are more likely to have insured children and seek care when they need it.

CHIP provides child-appropriate health coverage to more than 8 million children in working families across America with higher income eligibility than Medicaid. Created specifically for children, CHIP’s benefits and provider networks are designed to ensure children have access to child-appropriate services, providers, specialists, and facilities. Cost-sharing for CHIP (when states choose to apply it) is affordable for families. State CHIP programs may be rolled together with Medicaid, be a stand-alone separate program or some combination pf the two. The ACA required states to maintain their CHIP programs without cuts until 2019, but only funded it through 2015. In March 2015 funding for CHIP was extended for an additional two years, through September 30, 2017. To ensure that children do not lose ground, CDF strongly supports preserving, improving and funding CHIP at least until it has been demonstrated that ACA's marketplaces can guarantee children health coverage that is comparable or better to what they have now in CHIP.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA)’s Additional Supports for Children

The ACA has a significant impact on children with private insurance coverage too. Insurers are no longer able to refuse to cover children with pre-existing conditions, revoke coverage when a child gets sick or place annual or lifetime caps on coverage. Today all “Bright Futures” services — the standard of pediatric well-child and preventive coverage recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics– are now covered for children in public and private insurance without a co-payment. 

Ensuring the Promise of Health Reform

What Does It Mean For Children?

Learn more about what health reform means for children here.

CDF’s Comments on ACA Regulations

CDF is working hard to ensure the Affordable Care Act is implemented in a way that is as child-friendly as possible. Since the enactment of the law, we have submitted a number public comments on various provisions that affect children and families. You can learn more about these implementation issues and our recommendations in our comments. Read CDF's comment letters.

Resources on Key Implementation Issues for Children and Families

Even though health reform implementation is well underway, states are still working to ensure all children and families benefit from the law. Learn more about new coverage options, the impact the law is having in your state and about the opportunities to help reach all eligible children and parents in your community.

The Benefit of Medicaid

Together, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program have reduced the number of uninsured children in the United States to the lowest recorded level, ever. Let’s work together to support and expand Medicaid as it continues to age! See our new fact sheets on the benefit of Medicaid.

Data and Publications

Other Resources

Petition for Rulemaking

Federal data sources and CDF publications relevant to child health.

Child Poverty in America 2015 National FactSheet

Poverty data released by the U.S. Census Bureau on September 13, 2016 reveal child poverty declined last year to 14.5 million poor children, one million fewer than in 2014, but still higher than before the recession began in 2007.

September 13, 2016


State data released by the U.S. Census Bureau on September 17, 2015 reveal that child poverty in 2014 remains at record high levels in the states. Children are the poorest age group, and the poorest are children of color and those under age six.

October 28, 2015

Child Poverty in America 2014 State Fact Sheet

State data released by the U.S. Census Bureau on September 17, 2015 reveal that child poverty in 2014 remains at record high levels in the states. Children are the poorest age group, and the poorest are children of color and those under age six.

September 22, 2015

Child Poverty in America 2014 National Fact Sheet

Poverty data released by the U.S. Census Bureau on September 16, 2015 reveal that child poverty declined slightly in 2014, from 21.5 percent in 2013 to 21.1 percent in 2014. While child poverty rates declined for Hispanic, White and Asian children, Black children saw an increase and continue to have the highest child poverty rate. Despite some decreases child poverty among all children remains at shamefully high levels. One in five children – 15.5 million – were poor in 2014, and children remain the poorest age group in the country.

September 17, 2015

NCH Invited Written Testimony Marian Wright Edelman

July 30, 2015

The Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid Expansion Helps Adults and Children

A key element of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was the requirement that states expand eligibility for Medicaid to 138 percent of the federal poverty level to cover more children and low-income adults, a requirement which became an option for states after a U.S. Supreme Court decision in June 2012. As of July 20, 2015, 30 states and the District of Columbia have taken this option, expanding affordable health coverage to more than 10 million low-income Americans and reducing the rate of uninsurance nationwide from 17.6 percent to 10.1 percent.

Medicaid Primer - July 2015

Fifty years ago, on July 30, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed legislation creating Medicaid for "protection or security against the economic effects of sickness," and for fifty years, Medicaid has done just that for millions of children and low-income families across America.

Top Ten Reasons to Expand Medicaid

Since January 2014, 30 states and the District of Columbia have taken the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) option to expand Medicaid to adults with incomes at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL) ($32,913 for a family of four in 2014).i All of those states have seen dramatic reductions in their uninsured population and other benefits to children, individuals, families, and communities.

FY2016 House and Senate Budget Fact Sheet

Ending Child Poverty Now

For the first time, this report shows that by investing an additional 2 percent of the federal budget into existing programs and policies that increase employment, make work pay, and ensure children’s basic needs are met, the nation could reduce child poverty by 60 percent and lift 6.6 million children out of poverty.

January 28, 2015

More Children's Health Data

Other National Organizations

We work closely with many partners and friends across the country to help improve children’s health and access to comprehensive, affordable coverage. 

Some of these organizations include:

American Academy
of Pediatrics




Children’s Dental
Health Project


Georgetown Center for
Children and Families

of Dimes

Children’s Hospital


National Health
Law Program

Center on Budget
and Policy Priorities


Child Watch® Columns

Child Watch Columns: Children's Health

  • 11/23/16
    Child Watch® Column:
    A Prayer of Thanksgiving for Our Nation to Stand Up for All Our Children
    Lord I can’t preach like Martin Luther King, Jr. or turn a poetic phrase like Maya Angelou but I care and am willing to serve and stand with others to move our children forward and save our children in this time of Thanksgiving.
  • 11/11/16
    Child Watch® Column:
    Bringing America Together for Our Children's Sake
    What kind of people do we want to be? What kind of people do we want our children to be? What kind of moral examples, teachings, choices — personal, community, economic, faith, and political — are we parents, grandparents, community adults, political leaders, and citizens prepared to make in this new century and millennium to make our children strong inside and empower them to seek and help build a more just, compassionate, and less violent society and world?
  • 11/04/16
    Child Watch® Column:
    Keep Moving Forward on the Path Towards Justice
    You must vote for better futures for the millions of children left behind and for closing our country’s morally obscene and killing income, wealth, and educational gaps. Get out and vote and say thank you to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth and Medgar Evers and Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer who were beaten, bombed and killed for your and my right to vote. Get out to vote for Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner and Sandra Bland who can’t vote to stop renegade law enforcement practices. Get out to vote for all those hungry and homeless and illiterate children who have no voice in the political process and have to make their way daily through gun saturated streets of terror. Get out to vote to help ensure that another Newtown tragedy does not occur at the hands of an unstable adolescent wielding a gun loaded with large capacity ammunition magazines that have no business in the hands of unstable youths.
  • 10/21/16
    Child Watch® Column:
    Hope for the Future Through Your Vote
    Hope for the Future is a series of twelve meditations that include Scripture passages, moving true stories, and examples from other movements and faithful leaders to inspire all those working to create a better world for our children. It’s a book that could be used as a devotional or in group discussions by everyone from parents to pastors. Rev. Daley-Harris has long been speaking out on the call to care for children in every major faith tradition and calling on people to turn faith into action. As the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF)’s Religious Affairs Advisor and Director of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Child Advocacy Ministry Institute for two decades, she coordinates the National Observance of Children’s Sabbaths® Celebrations. Every year congregations of many faiths observe the Children’s Sabbath by drawing on Rev. Daley-Harris’s resources and the texts and teachings of their religious traditions to hear and respond to the holy and eternal call for love and justice that urges special care and protection for children, especially those who are poor.
  • 10/07/16
    Child Watch® Column:
    Do Your Part: "March to the Polls" and Vote
    If Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. were alive today, I am certain he would be urgently saying it is a moral imperative for each one of us to register and vote in our local, state, and national elections this year — and every year. Shortly after Congressman John Lewis spoke movingly at the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, he was asked on a radio show if he thought this was the time to organize another march on Washington. Without missing a beat, he replied: “I think the best march that we can have right now in America is on Election Day, November the eighth, for all of us all over America – Black and White, Latino, Native American, young people – to march to the polls. The vote is precious. It’s almost sacred. It is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have in a democratic society.”

Past Child Watch® Columns about Children's Health