Child Health Data Shows Wins on Coverage, But Plenty of Room for Improvement

Note: This blog is second in a series of posts covering the findings in the 2017 Annie E. Casey Foundation Kids Count Data Book. 

According to the annual Kids Count Data Book from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Arkansas remains in 46th place for child health rankings, when compared to other states. Although the state has continued to reduce the rate of uninsured children, progress has been slow in other important areas of child health, like child deaths and low birth-weight babies.

This year, the Data Book highlights the gains in the state covering even more children. Since 2010, the already-low rates for children without health insurance dropped to five percent. In addition to the great success of the ARKids First program, which provides a steady source of affordable, comprehensive coverage for many children, the “welcome mat effect” resulted in even more children enrolling in coverage. The “welcome mat effect” describes the increase in Arkansas children that were signed up for coverage when their parents and caregivers enrolled in newly available coverage options through the Affordable Care Act.

Although there has been a percentage point decrease in teens who abuse alcohol and drugs over a four-year period, the number of low birth-weight babies born in the state and child and teen deaths has remained the same or increased. This data highlights the need to focus on both access to health coverage and health care services.

Moving up the ranks from 46th place to number one will require more targeted efforts to address child health beyond access to coverage. Getting children enrolled in coverage is just the first step in ensuring they have the care they need to grow and thrive. The next steps must include getting children critical preventive care, like screenings that help identify any health issues early, and ensuring women of child-bearing age also have access to important health care services and education.

However, the greatest threat to the coverage gains we’ve made and the overall health of Arkansas kids is the federal debate on health reform. The recently passed House bill proposes slashing $3 billion from the state Medicaid program over the next decade. This would put the health of millions of kids at risk and force the state to serve fewer people, cut provider payments, or reduce benefits. For more information on the devastating impact of reversing expanded coverage for children and their families, check out this AACF fact sheet.

Read our first 2017 Kids Count Data Book blog post here.