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More Arkansas Kids are Losing Health Coverage

Children with access to healthcare are more likely to succeed in school, graduate from high school, attend college, earn higher wages, and become healthy adults. (Adobe Stock)
Children with access to healthcare are more likely to succeed in school, graduate from high school, attend college, earn higher wages, and become healthy adults. (Adobe Stock)
October 9, 2020

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Despite a strong economy and job growth between 2016 and 2019, the number of uninsured children in Arkansas jumped by 43%, according to a new report by the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families.

Rich Huddleston, executive director of Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, said most uninsured children are eligible for the federal Children's Health Insurance Program or 'CHIP.'

But the federal government slashed budgets for outreach and enrollment assistance, leaving many families either unaware or confused about how to sign up.

Huddleston believes recent changes to the state's Medicaid requirements could also have contributed to the trend.

"And then of course in Arkansas, and this is unique to Arkansas, we had the implementation of work requirements for our Medicaid expansion for low-income adults in 2018 and 2019," Huddleston explained. "That really hurt coverage for low-income adults, and it kicked many adults off the program."

Huddleston said this is significant because research has shown that when parents are covered, their children are more likely to be covered as well.

The report also cites the Trump administration's hostile rhetoric toward immigrants as a factor, as parents may be afraid to sign kids up.

Joan Alker, executive director of the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families, said the number of uninsured children has increased every year of the Trump administration. The largest jump was between 2018 and 2019.

"What's so troubling is that, you know, we've had years and years of progress as a country, in a bipartisan way, to reduce the number of uninsured children," Alker stressed. "And what we see now is, that trend has clearly turned around since President Trump took office. And we're going backwards at an accelerating rate."

Huddleston said state lawmakers could allow one-year continuous eligibility for Arkansas' lowest-income families under the "ARKids A" plan, which would help ensure that a child's coverage isn't interrupted due to unforeseen circumstances.

"And every day that we don't act, and we continue to see increases in the number of uninsured kids, that's not only going to be bad for those kids," Huddleston contended. "I mean, that's going to be bad for the whole state and our long-term ability to succeed."

About 726,000 children have lost health coverage nationwide since 2016, and experts predict the number is likely to increase, as the data used in the report was collected before the pandemic.

Disclosure: Georgetown University Center for Children and Families contributes to our fund for reporting on Children's Issues, and Health Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - AR