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Gap in Health Coverage for Arkansas Hispanic Children

Arkansas' uninsured rate for Hispanic children is comparable to the national average, but double the rate for children overall in the state. (Octavio Lopez/morguefile)
Arkansas' uninsured rate for Hispanic children is comparable to the national average, but double the rate for children overall in the state. (Octavio Lopez/morguefile)
January 18, 2016

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - Arkansas could be doing a better job of reaching out to Latino families to get health insurance for their kids. That's one finding in a new report from the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families.

Arkansas' uninsured rate for Hispanic children is 11 percent, comparable to the national average, but more than double the uninsured rate for all children in the state. Marquita Little, health policy director of Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, says while historic gains have been made since the Affordable Care Act has taken effect, the state could make more progress.

"We've expanded Medicaid coverage and extended that coverage to adults," says Little. "That's helped, because if parents enroll in coverage, they also enroll their children. But we could also implement a federal option that would remove many of the barriers that allow children who legally reside in our state to enroll in our ARKids First program."

She explains children in many Hispanic families face a five-year waiting period to enroll in the ARKids First program. She says taking advantage of the federal option would remove that barrier without costing the state additional money.

Little says one common challenge is covering families of mixed immigration status.

"That creates a barrier a lot of times," says Little. "Because of misinformation about how immigration status within a family may impact a child's eligibility for coverage."

She says if children are U.S. citizens and meet the other eligibility requirements, their family's immigration status has no bearing on getting them covered.

To fight the misconceptions about coverage, education and outreach are critically important, says Sonya Schwartz, policy fellow with the Georgetown Center.

"We're focusing a lot right now on the outreach and enrollment aspect, because this is the end of the open enrollment period, there are two more weeks for people to enroll in 'healthcare.gov' and state marketplaces," says Schwartz. "And so, we want to make sure that we reach all the remaining eligible but uninsured Hispanic kids."

The report says nationwide, most of the 1.7 million uninsured Hispanic children are eligible for coverage but haven't been enrolled.

Jeff Stein, Public News Service - AR