LITTLE ROCK — The percentage of Arkansas children who lack health insurance dropped from 8.8 percent in 2008 to 5.9 percent in 2012, the most recent year for which a percentage is available, according to a new report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Nationwide, the percentage of uninsured children dropped from 9.7 percent to 7.5 percent during the same period, the report prepared by University of Minnesota researchers shows.

"Reducing the number of children who lack health insurance has been a focus of state and federal policy-makers for years, and it’s encouraging to see that tremendous progress has been made," said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and CEO of RWJF. "More American children now have stable, affordable health coverage, and that means they can get the care they need to learn and grow."

Researchers found that in addition to more children becoming insured, the way children become insured has changed.

In 2008, according to the report, 50.5 percent of children in Arkansas were covered through private insurance. By 2012, just 47.8 percent had private insurance. Researchers say an increase in public coverage — including Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program — more than offset the difference.

In 2008, researchers found, 40.7 percent of children in the state received public health insurance coverage, compared to 46.4 percent in 2012.

Coverage expanded across the nation, with no state reporting an increase in uninsured children between 2008 and 2012. The percentages varied widely, however — ranging from a high of 17.0 percent of children uninsured in Nevada to a low of 1.4 percent in Massachusetts.

The federal Affordable Care act affects adults more than children, but children will be affected, the report notes. Some uninsured children will gain coverage through the premium tax credits available on insurance exchanges. Also, children who were eligible for but not enrolled in Medicaid and/or CHIP could gain coverage if their parents sign up for public or exchange coverage under the ACA.

"This report provides an important baseline for measuring the effects of the Affordable Care Act on uninsured children over time and across states," said Lynn Blewett, director of the State Health Access Data Assistance Center at the University of Minnesota, which compiled the report based on U.S. Census data. "As eligible parents sign up for free or low-cost health insurance, more children will also gain coverage."

Other findings for Arkansas in the report include:

—Children in households with family incomes below 138 percent of the federal poverty line were most likely to be uninsured, but also experienced the greatest gains in coverage — 10.2 percent uninsured in 2008 compared to 5.6 percent in 2012. Researchers say the gap between uninsured children in lower- and higher-income households is narrowing.

—While the percentage of children with insurance coverage rose across the board, Hispanic and non-white children experienced the greatest gains. In 2008, researchers found that 8.0 percent of non-white children and 18.9 percent of Hispanic children were uninsured; in 2012, they found that 5.3 percent of non-white children and 8.5 percent of Hispanic lacked coverage.