Number of Uninsured Children in Ark. Drops 60 %, Highest in U.S.

August 10, 2006

Arkansas has made the greatest progress in reducing its number of children without health-care coverage, a nationwide study released Aug. 9 shows.

The state saw the greatest drop – nearly 60 percent – of uninsured children from 1997 to 2004 of any state and the District of Columbia, according to a study for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

“This is a great validation of what parents, clinicians, both legislative and executive branch leaders know in the state already. It really profiles the success of the ARKids program,” said Dr. Joseph Thompson, the state’s chief health officer.

Maine followed with 50 percent, Alabama with 47 percent, South Carolina with 46 percent and North Dakota with 44 percent.

The study – called “The State of Kids’ Coverage” – was released by the foundation in conjunction with the kickoff of a nationwide campaign to enroll children in public health-insurance programs. According to the foundation, about seven in 10 uninsured children are eligible for low-cost or free health-care coverage, but their parents may not realize it.

Programs exist in every state. In Arkansas, low-income children are covered for free by Medicaid or for a small co-payment in the ARKids First program.

Thompson said the ARKids program, proposed by Gov. Mike Huckabee and created by the Legislature in 1997, has worked because it offers a comprehensive benefits package that parents want for their children, has overcome the resistance families may have because they feel stigmatized in seeking help, and has a strong outreach program to inform parents about ARKids through schools, health clinics, and private physicians.

When children don’t have health coverage, the fallout is great, Thompson said. They frequently miss preventive care, including sight and hearing tests before school. Overlooked, a health problem can become a serious threat to a child’s well being or life, he said.

“If a kid’s not healthy, they miss more school,” he said. “Then for those that are sent to school with health conditions, those kids are not ready to learn when they are sitting in class either.”

In 1997, Congress approved the federally funded State Children’s Health Insurance Program, which helps pay for ARKids First and public health coverage for children in every state.

According to the study, the number of uninsured children in Arkansas – from newborn to age 17 – dropped from 156,429 in 1997 to 59,023 in 2004. The near-60 percent drop reflected the change in the percent of uninsured children in 1997 and 2003, rather than the change in the actual numbers.

The study also shows the number of Arkansas children enrolled in private programs, usually through a parent’s employer, dropped by 13 percent while the number of children enrolled in public insurance programs rose 109 percent.

Nationwide, 2 million fewer children were uninsured from seven years ago when Congress created the federal program, although the number of Americans without health insurance has risen. Since 1997, the number of children in the U.S. enrolled in public insurance programs rose 31 percent while the number of children insured through private programs declined by 5 percent.

The State Health Access Data Assistance Center at the University of Minnesota produced the report, using statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

To find out who qualifies for public insurance, call 1-877-KIDS-NOW (877-543-7669)

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