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Little-Known Good News about Kids' Health Coverage

PHOTO: Arkansas is making progress in getting more children covered by health insurance, says a new report from the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families. Image courtesy of Georgetown University.
PHOTO: Arkansas is making progress in getting more children covered by health insurance, says a new report from the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families. Image courtesy of Georgetown University.
November 20, 2013

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - Most people don't know it, but programs such as the Children's Health Insurance Program and Medicaid mean more children are getting health coverage in Arkansas and around the nation.

A decade and a half ago, about a quarter of Arkansas children lacked health coverage. Now, thanks largely to Medicaid and the ARKids First program, that number is 6 percent.

Joan Alker, executive director of the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families, said that matches the national trend the center found in a new study - but its polling showed that most people don't realize it.

"Very few Americans are aware of the success that our country has had through Medicaid and CHIP in reducing the number of uninsured children," she said, "and I think that's an important 'good news' story that needs to get out."

According to the Georgetown Center, rural parts of the nation typically have more kids without health coverage, along with the southern and western states. But nationwide, the report said, more than 650,000 children became insured between 2010 and 2012.

CHIP, the Children's Health Insurance Program, passed in Congress with bipartisan support. Aker said Medicaid has worked best in those states where it hasn't been treated as a partisan issue.

"This is a really stark reminder," she said, "that our elected officials would do well by the families in their state to take a step back and drop some of the political posturing and think about working together to improve the challenges that families face."

One thing likely to get more children insured, the report said, is what it called the "welcome mat effect": Connecting parents to the health system makes them aware that it can also help their kids.

Anna Strong, director of health care policy for Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, said early outreach for the state's Private Option also has brought 3,000 kids into ARKids First. She said it's best for the children when everyone in the family can get health care.

"Making sure that parents stay healthy," she said, "and making sure that kids are able to enroll in things that the family might not have been aware that they are eligible for."

The report and poll are online at ccf.georgetown.edu.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - AR