LITTLE ROCK — Nearly 25,000 Arkansas children have obtained health care coverage since last fall in what an advocacy group says is a result of parents’ increased access to health insurance under the federal Affordable Care Act and Arkansas’ so-called private option.
Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families held a news conference Thursday at the state Capitol to discuss the state’s progress in insuring children and release a report, "Crossing into New Territory: Kids’ Health Coverage in 2014."
Anna Strong, the group’s health policy director and the author of the report, said that according to state Department of Human Services data, in the past eight months, 24,658 Arkansas children have obtained coverage, compared to 3,o25 who obtained coverage in the eight months prior to Sept. 1 — a sharp increase that coincides with the availability of the private option and the Arkansas Health Insurance Marketplace, both of which launched Oct. 1.
Strong said those children included 22,228 who were already eligible for the state’s children’s health insurance program, ARKids First, or traditional Medicaid but were not enrolled.
"We’ve seen that as the parents are coming to get coverage (under the private option), we’re reaching those kids who are the hardest to reach, and reaching those kids whose parents may not have known they were eligible," she said.
The private option is Arkansas’ program that uses federal Medicaid money to subsidized private health insurance for adults earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. Parents are not allowed to obtain coverage under the private option unless their children are enrolled in ARKids First or traditional Medicaid.
More than 2,400 of the children who obtained coverage in the past eight months did so along with their parents or caregivers through the marketplace, Strong said. Federal subsidies are available to help families obtain coverage through the marketplace if their income is between 100 and 400 percent of the federal poverty level.
The report that Arkansas Advocates released Thursday is based on 2012 data and so does not include the effects of the private option and the insurance marketplace, but it shows significant gains in extending coverage to Arkansas children over a 15-year period.
According to the report, the percentage of uninsured children in 2012 was 5.9 percent, down from 22 percent in 1997, the year that ARKids First launched.
"The bottom line is that Arkansas continues to make great progress in our efforts to reduce the number of uninsured children in the state and to eventually meet our goal of providing health care coverage for every single child in the state of Arkansas," said Rich Huddleston, the group’s executive director.
The state Legislature created the private option last year in a bipartisan effort, although the issue divided Republican lawmakers. Approval of a second round of federal funding barely passed in the Legislature this year, and some Republican legislators have vowed to seek its appeal or overhaul next year.
Ending the private option would not cause any children to lose coverage if the Legislature keeps ARKids First intact, Strong said.