A new study that shows a 26% rise in Arkansas children without health insurance garnered responses from the seven candidates running for governor in 2022.
Earlier this week, the KIDS COUNT Data Book produced by the Annie E. Casey Foundation reported that 43,000 Arkansas children were without health insurance in 2019 compared to 34,000 in 2018.
Some potential reasons for the dramatic downturn include complications surrounding Arkansas’ work requirement to receive Medicaid expansion insurance and hesitancy among immigrant families to sign up for publicly-assisted health insurance due to the Trump administration’s efforts to alter immigration policy.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson disputed those possibilities and said the state is heading in a better direction on children’s health when looking at more recent data. He agreed that some minority communities have seen decreases in coverage.
“There is no data to tie children insurance rates to the work requirement. National studies point to the biggest drops in coverage for children are among Hispanic and undocumented populations and are a result of a cut back in outreach efforts,” he said.
“Arkansas didn’t see a significant drop in enrollment during 2019. As of 1/1/19 we had 404,733 children enrolled in Medicaid and CHIP. As of 1/1/20 we had 412,757 children enrolled,” Hutchinson said, citing more current data. “The percentage of children with Medicaid or CHIP actually decreased in states with Medicaid expansion. We presume this is because their parents moved up the economic ladder and received insurance coverage from other sources other than Medicaid, while there was no change in non-expansion states.”
Among the four Democrats, two Republicans and one Libertarian who have announced for Arkansas governor in 2022, all offered responses to the children’s health report.
James “Rus” Russell, Democrat
“Given the data reported, and in light of the June 2 announcement of a $980 million dollar surplus in our state budget, it appears to me that the state budget surplus is either evidence of misallocation of funds or simply a disregard for human suffering in favor of political points. As governor, I would improve children’s healthcare by prioritizing both preventative care and health education for children and parents as well as expanding assistance to communities most impacted by economic and social distress.”
Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, Republican
“Growing up with a mom who taught elementary special education for 34 years in a rural public school, and then from my experience serving as a prosecutor, DHS attorney handling foster cases, and now as Attorney General, I know firsthand how vulnerable too many Arkansas children truly are. Whether it is mental, emotional, and physical abuse, food insecurity, or a lack of quality educational opportunities, thousands of children in our State suffer every day at the hands of adults who do not love them as they should and as a result of a government system that is failing them. Healthcare, education, public safety, and economic opportunities all have a direct impact on Arkansas’s kids. As Governor and the mom of a three-year-old, I will make the well-being of our children and their future a priority in every policy decision.”
Dr. Anthony Bland, Democrat
“I believe we need to get back to placing kids first. That is the reason why the medical insurance was called ARKids First, which has been restructured by our current government officials to be obtained by some children, and not all children. At one point, they were considering abolishing the program. Children in our communities are the future of our society, and if we do not invest in their health, education, and livelihood we will continue down this path of failing the children in our state. As Governor, I will support investing in services, venues, and programs that will enhance the growth and future of our children.”
Ricky Dale Harrington, Jr., Libertarian
“If elected Governor, I will be implementing citizen-led initiatives that are focused on dealing with these issues affecting our local communities. We will work on tailoring policy to bring Arkansas out of its current ranks and encourage the people to take immediate action. We can fix our healthcare, educational system, and remove red tape so small business owners can do what they do best, be job creators.”
Dr. Chris Jones, Democrat
“We owe it to children in Arkansas – and to the future of our state – to ensure that every child has the resources they need to succeed. We must reverse these trends. We must make smart and bold investments to provide a strong public education for every child from cradle to career, expand access to quality and affordable health insurance, and give hardworking families a fair shot to get ahead. Arkansas has the talent, ideas, creativity, and entrepreneurship to create this change, but it will take all of us working together to see it through. As governor, this would be a clear priority for me.”
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Republican
“One of the reasons I’m pro-life is because I believe we have to protect those who can’t protect themselves – and not just the unborn. No child should ever be trapped in a life of poverty and despair, and as governor, I will lead a coalition of political, business, and faith leaders in an effort to make sure no child in our state ever goes hungry and has access to affordable healthcare.
“We must also do a better job getting kids off screens and into sports and our beautiful outdoors in the Natural State, including hiking and biking, and hunting and fishing. And every child must have the opportunity of a quality education. As governor, I will champion good schools and job-training programs to establish real opportunity, so that where a kid starts in life doesn’t determine where he or she finishes.”
Supha Xayprasith-Mays, Democrat
“There is no higher priority for my candidacy as Governor than the health and well-being of our citizens, especially our children. I am the mother of four children and understand fully the struggles working families and mothers in Arkansas face in maintaining the health of their children. Arkansas’ #41 ranking in overall health and its drop from #23 to # 29 in the number of children without health insurance during this Republican administration should be a source of embarrassment and alarm to our current leadership and citizens.
“As Governor, I would channel all the resources available to the office to form a cabinet-level task force to coordinate the branches of government to immediately reduce the rate of uninsured children, and eventually reach the achievable goal of a 100% insured rate among our children by the end of my first term in office. Anything less is unacceptable. All of Arkansas’ children are OUR CHILDREN.
“To address the health of our children, we cannot ignore and must address the economic health of our Arkansans families. Poverty is a leading factor in health disparities and that’s why job creation, especially for single mothers, will be the central focus of any health initiatives. As Governor, I will propose a working families’ tax credit, and work with the Biden administration to move federal dollars for job creation and training so that families have more options and employers have a healthier more productive workforce.
“Our educational system will be fully deployed in the effort to improve and protect the health of our children. They will do this through expanded health education beginning in elementary school and through strategic alliances with local healthcare providers for direct preventative, mental health and maintenance healthcare from kindergarten to high school graduation to underinsured students. In my administration, every child in Arkansas will be provided with healthcare as a matter of right, not privilege, no matter the economic status of the parents and regardless of race, gender or sexual identity.
“The Department of Health will be funded at the highest level in Arkansas’ history and empowered to work with the Biden administration to provide expanded Medicaid coverage and programs to ensure that family income never effects any Arkansas child’s ability to receive maximum health care. No family should face financial catastrophe for the choice of providing healthcare to their children in the case of an emergency or life-threatening illness.
“The entire future of Arkansas rests within our children. It’s time the people of Arkansas have government that places its PEOPLE first and that starts with our children.”