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Children’s Coverage: In the South, AR is the Exception

 Arkansas is bucking a national trend and also outshining other southern states for its efforts to get children covered by health insurance. Credit: Microsoft Images.
Arkansas is bucking a national trend and also outshining other southern states for its efforts to get children covered by health insurance. Credit: Microsoft Images.
November 7, 2014

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - Arkansas is the star of the South for its progress in reducing the number of children without health insurance.

The state's uninsured rate is 5.5 percent, according to a report from the Georgetown Center for Children and Families, which means slightly more than 39,000 Arkansas children lack coverage, compared with a rate of 7.6 percent in Mississippi and a national rate of 7.1 percent.

Marquita Little, health policy director at Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, said the good news is even better because of the state's bipartisan plan to expand Medicaid to low-income working parents.

"Because of the 'welcome mat' effect," she said, "we've seen an additional 25,000 children who have enrolled in coverage as their parents enrolled."

The report noted the importance of the federal Children's Health Insurance Program, which is up for reauthorization in Congress next year. If it isn't renewed, the nation's number of uninsured children could swell to 7 million.

Joan Alker, executive director of the Georgetown Center, said insurance is a factor that reaches deeply into a child's life.

"We do know from a lot of research that children who have coverage - be it private or public coverage - do better in school," she said, "They have better access to primary and preventive health-care services; and their families are protected from bankruptcy that can arise from unpaid medical bills."

Little said Arkansas still has work to do to reach Hispanic families, those in rural areas and those living just above the poverty line whose children are most likely to be uninsured.

The full report is online at ccf.georgetown.edu.

Deborah Courson Smith/Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - AR