At Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, we’ve been working for many years to ensure that all children have health coverage here in our state. Our latest report, Crossing into New Territory: Kids’ Health Coverage in 2014, outlines the progress Arkansas has made in covering kids since 1997. For the first time ever, fewer than six percent of Arkansas children lack health insurance, down from 22 percent in 1997. This dramatic reduction is no accident. It is the product of a concerted, bipartisan, years-long effort to make sure kids are covered.
However, as we shared last week at our “Superheroes for ARKids First” press conference, we have additional news that’s so new, it’s not even in our report. I’m proud to share that almost 25,000 children have enrolled in health care coverage in the last few months. Yes, you read that correctly: there are 25,000 newly-covered children in Arkansas. That’s almost 500 school buses full of little superheroes! Thanks to the Arkansas Private Option and the Affordable Care Act, children have been enrolling in affordable coverage along with their caregivers here in Arkansas. This progress puts a big dent in the remaining uninsured children in Arkansas.
The 25,000 new enrollees include more than 22,000 children who were already eligible for ARKids First or Medicaid but not yet enrolled. These are children like Katherine, whose mom, Rosa, decided to see what options might be available for her family under the Affordable Care Act. To Rosa’s surprise, Katherine got covered under ARKids First almost immediately. Thankfully, when Katherine caught the flu in late January, ARKids First covered her $300 medication. Now Katherine can have the preventive care she needs to stay healthy and in school. In addition, coverage brought priceless peace of mind to Rosa.
The 25,000 new enrollees also include about 2,500 children who enrolled in health care plans through the Marketplace because their family earned more than the ARKids First income limit. There, families can pay on a sliding scale, based on their income, for private insurance based on their income. More than 200,000 adults, including many parents who weren’t previously eligible for affordable coverage, have gained coverage in the Private Option or the Marketplace. Healthy, economically secure families can succeed.
This success – 25,000 newly covered children - is beyond our expectations.
“Research shows that when parents have coverage, kids get covered, too,” says Rich Huddleston, executive director of AACF. “Now we have the data to prove it right here in Arkansas. And this success is just the beginning.”
Children can enroll year-round in ARKids First until their 19th birthday, and Private Option coverage for adults 19 to 64 is available year-round as well.
However, we know that we still have work to do to reach the remaining uninsured children. Disparities exist regionally, within minority groups, and with older children. There are easy steps Arkansas policymakers can take to be “Superheroes for ARKids First” who ensure EVERY child has health coverage.
· Protect ARKids First as changes are made to our health insurance and health care system. The benefits and cost-sharing, along with the simplified process for getting covered, are proven and popular. Let’s not “fix” something that already works.
· Allow federal health outreach funding to be spent in Arkansas. Recently, a minority of legislators blocked this funding from being used by the state. When families know about their coverage options and can seek help to get enrolled, children get covered.
· Cover lawfully present children who are barred from coverage today. Arkansas can easily adopt a rule allowing legal immigrant and Marshallese children – people who are following the rules – to have health coverage like their peers, at a very nominal cost to the state.
For more information about the demographics of uninsured kids and recommendations for reaching them, check out the full report, Crossing into New Territory: Kids’ Health Coverage in 2014.