The number of uninsured children in Arkansas increased by 13,000 from 2016 to 2019, according to an annual report released today (Oct. 9) by the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute. The report shows that 43,000 children in Arkansas, nearly 6% of all children in the state, were uninsured in 2019.
Arkansas was among 26 states that saw significant increases in their numbers of uninsured children during this period. Arkansas has historically had lower rates of uninsured children compared to the nation as a whole, but as of 2019 there is no statistical difference between Arkansas and the nation on this measure of children’s access to healthcare coverage.
The report notes that the declines in healthcare coverage among children occurred during a healthy economy with low unemployment rates and prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Nationally, a slight increase in employer-sponsored coverage of children during this period was not enough to offset losses in coverage through public programs such as Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and federal or state health insurance marketplaces with subsidized coverage.
The report attributes the loss in coverage through public programs to cuts in funding for outreach and enrollment assistance for Affordable Care Act coverage programs, federal regulations deterring immigrant families from enrolling their children, and rigid enrollment barriers that make it more difficult for families to enroll or remain enrolled.
Latino children saw the biggest uninsured rate increase, from 7.9% in 2017 to 9.2% in 2019. White children and children whose race is recorded as “Other” also saw statistically significant increases, while American Indian/Alaska Native children continued to have the highest uninsured rates by race at nearly 14% in 2019.
Public programs will play a critical role as a safety net for our children as we navigate the uncertainties of COVID-19 and its health and economic impacts. Beyond the pandemic, Arkansas and the nation should mark this report as a warning sign and refocus efforts to ensure that our children have streamlined access to affordable, quality healthcare coverage that will enable them to get needed care and thrive in their communities.