Increased Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) coverage has led to a drop in the number of low-income children who are uninsured, despite an increase in child poverty, according to a report released Wednesday by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The percentage of children with public insurance (Medicaid and CHIP) increased from 25.8 percent in 2008 to 31.4 percent in 2010, according to the foundation's review of Census Bureau data. Over the same period, the number of uninsured children fell from 9.7 percent to 8.5 percent.

Coverage for higher-income children was fairly stable, while most of the shift occurred with the low-income population (defined as 200 percent of the federal poverty level, which is the threshold for CHIP or Medicaid coverage under federal law). Private insurance coverage of low-income children dropped by 3 percent (from 33 to 30 percent), but public insurance made up the difference: coverage grew from 51.6 percent in 2008 to 57.3 percent in 2010.

The number of children living in poverty increased by 4.5 million during the study period, according to the report.

“The good news is that unlike adults in the United States, kids aren’t more likely to be going uninsured because of tough economic times,” said Lynn Blewett, professor at the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health, one of the authors of the report, in a statement. “Kids need access to regular care, and having insurance makes that possible, so these programs have been a real lifeline in tough times.”

While the growth in public insurance can partly be attributed to the economic downturn, states also took various steps to increase their rolls. According to the report, 10 states upped their income limit for Medicaid and CHIP coverage between 2008 and 2010, while six states initiated continuous eligibility (which maintains coverage even as children's families fluctuate above and below the income threshold) and six others launched express-lane eligibility to streamline the application process.

As a result, some states saw a substantial increase in children with Medicaid or CHIP compared to their peers. Maine, for example, implemented continuous eligibility and express-lane eligibility and had its public insurance coverage for low-income children increase by 11.7 percent, one of the biggest increases in the country. Likewise, Oregon raised its income limits and added express-lane eligibility; its Medicaid and CHIP coverage for low-income children jumped by 11.3 percent.

Below is a table tracking state-by-state insurance coverage for low-income children. Credit: The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

  Low Income Children Insurance Coverage (PDF)
Low Income Children Insurance Coverage (Text)