Arkansas Aims to Increase SCHIP Participation

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An Arkansas-based advocacy group has kicked off a new initiative intended to increase enrollment of the state's children in ARKids First, the state's federally funded Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).

Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families (AACF), a Little Rock-based nonprofit, is setting out to reach an estimated 44,000 uninsured children who are currently eligible for but not enrolled in ARKids First, through a planned three-year outreach program.

Health policy experts warn the initiative will not make a significant difference in the number of uninsured individuals in the state.

Part of National Effort

AACF's enrollment initiative is part of the Finish Line Project, a national program funded by a $15 million grant from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, an organization advocating for single-payer "universal" youth health care among other issues. The grants will provide AACF with $675,000 over three years and will generate about $264,000 in matching federal funds, according to AACF Director Rich Huddleston.

Six other states--Colorado, Iowa, Ohio, Rhode Island, Texas, and Washington--are taking part in the Finish Line Project.

"States are leading the charge to cover America's uninsured children, and with effective leadership from committed policymakers, advocates, and community leaders, they can finish the job and cover every child," said Carol S. Larson, president and CEO of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

'Awareness' Not the Problem

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Policy experts say the program is nothing new and will have little, if any, impact.

"It may work around the edges, but the problem with these [SCHIP] programs is not a lack of awareness," said Greg Scandlen, director of Consumers for Health Care Choices at The Heartland Institute. "It's just not received well by the people it's supposed to help. Efforts like these have been tried before."

Although advocates acknowledge the program is unlikely to achieve 100 percent enrollment in the ARKids First program, members of the organization crusading for the effort say it could have an everlasting, positive impact on the state as a whole.

"Every child deserves access to quality health care in order to grow up stronger, be ready to learn, and be prepared to contribute to their communities," said Tara Manthey, communications director for AACF. "ARKids First, which was created during the administration of Republican Governor Mike Huckabee, and is now strongly supported by Democratic Governor Mike Beebe, is vital to helping low-income Arkansas children get access to health care."

"Getting children the health care they need is essential to moving our state forward," said Huddleston. "Kids that are healthy do better in school and go on to be more productive citizens, which will mean a stronger, more competitive workforce for Arkansas."

Previous Health Insurance Programs Failed

Scandlen says Arkansas should change strategies if it hopes to make a positive impact on the state's health care and insurance market as a whole.

"The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation tried to boost enrollment in SCHIP by paying for ads on pizza boxes and paying churches and community organizations to tell people about it and get them signed up," said Scandlen. "It didn't work very well.

"Arkansas should learn from the experiences of other states," Scandlen concluded. "They basically need to realize that it's very hard to get people enrolled in programs that aren't working a lick because you can't find a doctor who will accept the plan."

Aricka Flowers ([email protected]) writes from Illinois.

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