Don’t Cut the Kids

Don’t Cut the Kids

Governor Mike Huckabee and the state General Assembly established the ARKids First program in 1997 (with the help of then-Senator Mike Beebe who was the lead sponsor of the legislation). Since then, ARKids First has helped tens of thousands of Arkansas children access the health care they need to stay healthy. Parents, advocates, and policy-makers from both sides of the aisle have worked to extend coverage to the families that need it and break down barriers to keeping children enrolled.

All of this hard work has paid off. Today, Arkansas is a national leader in covering children with only 7.3 percent of Arkansas children uninsured, down from over 22 percent when the program began in 1997. The coverage provided by ARKids First means children can get the preventive care they need – well-child visits and immunizations, asthma inhaler prescriptions – and identify health issues before they become a problem. ARKids First helped families during the recent recession when parents lost jobs or had their hours cut. It gave families the peace of mind that their children would have health coverage and helped parents maintain economic stability.

The last thing we need to do is backtrack on all the progress we have made and go back to a time when more than one out of every five children were insured.

Medicaid is an economic engine in Arkansas, with $6.31 in economic benefit resulting from every dollar the state invests in the program*. With businesses choosing not to offer health coverage during tough times (the percentage of Americans with employee-based insurance coverage has declined by 10 percent over the last ten years), ARKids First ensures that children have stable coverage to access the care they need. If families choose to drop private coverage for their children, there is a six-month waiting period before they can get coverage through ARKids First. Parents don’t want to put their children at risk if they don’t have to, and research shows this is not a common occurrence.

When state budgets are tight, we need to ensure that our priorities remain focused on doing what’s right and investing in programs that make a meaningful impact on children and the vulnerable among us. We can use improved technology systems – like the ones DHS is already working on – to make it easier for eligible children to enroll in ARKids First by using state databases or other program applications to verify information instead of requiring paper forms from families. This eases the burden on families without sacrificing program integrity.

Louisiana has made many of these simplification procedures and maintains one of the lowest error rates in the country while enrolling more eligible children and saving the state millions of dollars in administrative costs**. We all want to eliminate misuse of government programs and spend our public money wisely, but we don’t want to move backwards and re-establish barriers we’ve worked hard to reduce for children.

In fact, we need to push to implement Act 771 to “cut the red tape” in ARKids First, which was passed in 2011. Act 771 will help enroll the state’s 54,000 uninsured children, most of whom qualify for ARKids First. In 2010, 28,000 children lost their health coverage for administrative reasons such as a missed form or because they moved. Children who have coverage are more likely to receive the health care they need to become healthy, educated, and productive citizens. The health of our children is a good investment.

We need to support the work that has been done to ensure children have health coverage so they can grow up to be healthy, productive Arkansans.

*Walton College of Business study, 2010.
**Dorn, Hill, Adams. (2012) “Louisiana breaks new ground: The nation’s first use of automatic enrollment through express lane eligibility.” The Urban Institute. Revised April 2012.