Crossing the Finish Line 2010: Moving Toward Covering All Kids

A new report from Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families (AACF) finds that a startling number of children in the state who are eligible for ARKids First are either unenrolled or are being dropped from the program because of enrollment barriers and red tape.

The report, Crossing the Finish Line: Moving Toward Covering All Kids, is a part of AACF’s campaign to see all of Arkansas’ children have health insurance, but during the course of the research, it became evident that we must make changes to the current enrollment process in order to enroll those kids who are currently eligible and keep them enrolled as long as they are qualified.

The report finds that of the 65,000 Arkansas children currently without health insurance, 43,000 are actually eligible for ARKids First. However, many are not participating or drop off because of the difficulties associated with the registration or renewal process. Perhaps most unsettling is the finding that nearly 20,000 children were dropped from ARKids First because of simple paperwork issues. Many states have already begun to streamline their enrollment process, yet Arkansas lags behind.

“In its current form, the system is not working for all kids,” said Rich Huddleston, Executive Director at AACF. “The health of thousands of children is being put at risk because our system is overwrought with red tape. It is inexcusable that we would allow eligible children to go uncovered because the system puts up so many barriers to enrolling children and keeping them covered.”

The best solution for keeping these children covered is to modernize the registration process, a procedure that many have decried as too expensive, especially in the current economy. Yet many states, including our neighbor to the south, Louisiana, have taken steps to eliminate barriers and keep children covered that have actually saved staff time and taxpayer dollars associated with the constant enrolling and re-enrolling of children.

“Modernizing Arkansas’ enrollment process will improve efficiency and allow more children to receive the coverage they deserve and for which they are already eligible,” said Elisabeth Wright Burak, Health Policy and Legislative Affairs Director for AACF. “We know that solutions exist because other states have implemented them such as paperless and/or automatic re-enrollment or offering continuous 12 month insurance. If we can embrace these new methods to keep children enrolled and create a more efficient system in the process, we can then begin the work of covering those children who currently don’t qualify for ARKids First, yet desperately need medical insurance.”

In 2009, Arkansas’ Legislature passed new eligibility levels that would allow families making up to 250 percent of the federal poverty level to qualify for coverage. However, due to budget shortfalls and ongoing negotiations between the state and national governments, the expansion has yet to occur.

“Arkansas families are hurting,” said Burak. “And without this expansion, the most vulnerable of them will be put in even greater danger due to the expense that can follow even the most minor of injuries. Without health insurance, even a small trip to the hospital can send a family into an inescapable financial crisis.”