Jill Beckwith and Jessica Mack, Policy Analysts, Rhode Island Kids Count
Rhode Island has been a leader in making sure that children have health insurance, with 94% of our kids covered. Most are covered through employer-sponsored insurance, and about one-third through RIte Care, our state’s Medicaid managed care program for children and families. Like so many states, Rhode Island is facing record budget deficits that are forcing difficult choices. ??Last year, we were all saddened when Rhode Island ended a long-standing state-funded policy allowing legal permanent resident and undocumented children access to RIte Care. We have oodles of data showing the positive health outcomes for children who are covered through RIte Care. Children’s advocates, health care providers and others all agreed that these children would be worse off without coverage. But after CHIPRA’s strengthened federal commitment to lawfully residing immigrant children, what a difference a year can make!
??In March, Rhode Island Governor Donald Carcieri included coverage for lawfully residing immigrant children in the budget that he proposed to the state General Assembly. The Rhode Island Department of Human Services presented a strong case that because of higher federal Medicaid match rates for some children and pregnant women already covered through RIte Care, the state could afford to restore coverage to some of the children who lost it the previous year. Now that federal matching funds were available, Rhode Island didn’t have to go it alone. Rhode Island KIDS COUNT, The Poverty Institute, and the RIte Care Works Coalition worked to educate policymakers about the benefits of restoring coverage for these kids. After a long and difficult session in which budget concerns dominated most decisions, the General Assembly included coverage for lawfully residing immigrant kids in the budget passed two weeks ago.
What a victory for kids in a very challenging time! It has reminded us to savor the small wins during difficult budget times, sometimes moving inch-by-inch to cross the finish line for kids’ coverage, rather than mile-by-mile. While we never lose sight of our goal to cover ALL kids (including the undocumented children who have not yet had their coverage restored), it’s the small victories that will get us there. Take it from us here in Rhode Island: good things do come in small packages!
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