Providing health coverage for all U.S. children would be comparatively inexpensive, researchers contend.

Vivian Ho and Marah Short, health economics experts at Rice University’s Baker Institute, look at the cost of covering children in an analysis based on a review of earlier medical and social science studies.

“The study indicates that if a plan to insure all individuals in the U.S. or all children is introduced, the incremental cost of covering each child is relatively small,” Ho says in a discussion of the analysis.

The lifetime value of health capital lost due to a child lacking health insurance is $15,572 per male and $11,646 per female, the researchers report.

The cost of providing health insurance for each uninsured child through age 18 is $7,451, the researchers estimate.

The total cost of providing health insurance for all children would be about $9.6 billion, a relatively small number in comparison to the $113 billion required to cover uninsured adults and the $2.4 trillion national health expenditure total, Ho and Short write.

Health care expenditures are now 47% lower for uninsured children than for insured children, but that is because uninsured children are less likely receive needed medical, dental, or other care, Ho and Short write.

A lack of health insurance for children leads to inferior health, a higher rate of avoidable hospitalization, and a higher childhood mortality rate, the researchers write.

“The literature suggests that many uninsured children are healthy, and that insurance premiums in general should be much lower for children,” Ho says. “However, because there are a small fraction of children who are quite ill, executives and agents should hope that the government introduces additional support to cover the costs of chronically ill children.”

The health insurance industry must prepare for the possibility that the federal government will introduce a public insurance program, Ho says.

“If so, many privately insured children may be shifted by their parents into the public alternative,” Ho says. “Private companies will be forced to be more creative in developing competitive products, such as those that offer quicker and faster access to urgent care, more preventive medicine, and a wider network of physicians and hospitals.”