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New KIDS COUNT survey ranks well being of Kansas children

By Dave Ranney | July 25, 2012

According to a national survey of conditions that affect childhood well being, Kansas fares better than most states.

“We’re 16th overall,” said Shannon Cotsoradis, president at CEO at Kansas Action for Children, an advocacy group that helped assemble the latest KIDS COUNT data book, which was released Wednesday.

With 18 percent of Kansas children living in poverty in 2010, the state still had lower rate than the national average. And the fact that only 22 percent of children live in homes where the parents lack secure employment compared favorably to the national average of 27 percent.

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Kids Count Data Book, 2012

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That was the comparatively good news.

When it came to indicators of child health, Kansas did not fare well.

“We came in 32nd,” Cotsoradis said. “I was shocked when I saw that.”

The poor showing, she said, appeared to be driven by a couple of factors:

• The state made little or no progress in lowering the numbers of low birth-weight babies between 2005 and 2009.

• Between 2008 and 2010, the number of Kansas children without health insurance – roughly 60,000 - remained steady.

“When you look at the trend data, that’s a zero-percent improvement,” Cotsoradis said, referring to the number of uninsured children. “At the same time, other states have made progress on this issue, so our numbers, by not improving, pulled our ranking down.”

According to the survey, 8 percent of the children in Kansas were uninsured in 2010.

Twenty-five states had a lesser percentage than Kansas, which tied with Mississippi, North Carolina, South Dakota and Wyoming.

In Iowa, a state similar to Kansas in population, demographics, and economy, 4 percent to the children were uninsured. Only three states – Massachusetts, Vermont, and Connecticut - fared better than Iowa.

“I suspect there are a lot of reasons for that,” said Roger Munns, a spokesman for the Iowa Department of Human Services, which oversee the state’s Medicaid and CHIP programs.

“It may not sound all that significant, but we’ve been consistent,” he said. “Ever since we started our CHIP program, it’s had the same management. And where other states have added (benefits) and then taken them away when they found out they couldn’t afford them, we’ve not done that. We’ve been consistent. We’ve been credible."

In Iowa, children in families at or below 300 percent of the federal poverty level – about $4,775 a month for a three-person household – are eligible for government subsidized coverage.

The counterpart to Iowa's program in Kansas is called HealthWave, which combines Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program. Its income eligibility threshold is capped at 232 percent of the poverty level.

During the survey period, HealthWave’s internal operations suffered funding shortfalls that led to months-long delays in processing first-time applications and renewals. Those backlog problems since have been resolved.

Iowa, Munns said, had avoided similar troubles.

“I have to say that policywise, both of our political parties have sort of taken the position that, ‘If we don’t do anything else, we’re going to make sure our kids are covered,” Munns said. “If they don’t agree on anything else, they agree on that.”

Cotsoradis said that about 70 percent of the uninsured children in Kansas are eligible for but not enrolled in HealthWave,

She said she hoped Kansas lawmakers would view expanding the state’s Medicaid program to include adults as a way to also lower the number of uninsured children.

“We know that most kids who are eligible for Medicaid are already on Medicaid,” she said. “But there’s a sizable amount of data that very clearly suggests that providing parents with coverage increases the likelihood that the kids will be covered, that they’re more likely to keep the coverage and more likely to use the coverage.”

Cotsoradis said she was optimistic that a state-commissioned blue-ribbon panel currently at work would find ways to lower the number of low-birth weight babies.

“A number of pilot projects will be up and running by the first of the year,” she said. Cotsoradis serves on the panel.

Here is how Kansas ranked among some other indicators cited in the KIDC COUNT report:

• 22nd for the percentage of children ages 3 and 4 not enrolled in preschool;

• 10th for the percentage of fourth-graders reading below proficiency;

• 15th for the percentage of teens graduating from high school on time.

In 2010, 18 percent of the state’s children were living below the poverty guideline, a 20 percent increase from 2005, when 15 percent were in poverty.

More than one-fourth of the children were living in homes in which no parent had full-time, year-round employment.

KIDS COUNT is a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation.



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