A new report says the share of Arkansas children not covered by health insurance declined from 19.4 percent in 1996 to 11 percent in 2002—lower than the national average of 12 percent.
Rhonda Sanders, director of health policy for Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, credited the improvement to the ARKids First program. That program was set up by the Legislature in 1997, at the urging of Gov. Mike Huckabee.
About 50,000 more children have health insurance today than in 1996, according to the report released by Sanders’ group, but about 82,000 remain uninsured.
Some of the greatest reductions in uninsured rates occurred in families with incomes below 201 percent of the officially defined poverty level. The report also says that the percentage of insured children in households with incomes at or below 200 percent of the poverty level is nearing the percentage of covered children in homes with incomes above that level.
“The ARKids First enrollment effort has actually reduced for the first time the insurance gap between the low-income children and the higher income children in Arkansas,” Sanders said.
The ARKids First legislation expanded the income eligibility for Medicaid, allowing more children to qualify for the government health insurance.
To help the 11 percent of children who are still uninsured, Sanders said, her group plans to support the Medicaid budget request from the state Department of Human Services.
The department’s 2005 budget includes $426.2 million for prescription drugs, including $86.5 million in state general revenue, and $1.96 billion for hospital and medical services, including $376.4 million in state general revenue.
Sanders said that budget allows for growth in the ARKids program at the rate seen over the past several years.
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