Truly a Better State of Health
"Numerous advances and improvements have been a major part of state government during the past decade, but perhaps the most meaningful change we've made is the enhancement of heathcare programs. Today's Arkansas is now much more health conscious, from free healthcare for children to programs aimed at reducing obesity. With the continued success we've seen, Arkansas is on its way to being the heathiest state in America."
March 10, 1997, was a historic day in Arkansas for a couple of reasons. One was interesting in the fact it was the first time in history a governor signed a bill into law using a crayon. Much more importantly, along with the signing of this bill, ARKids First came into being providing children across the state with improved access to healthcare. Early on as governor, Mike Huckabee realized improving the quality of life for the children of Arkansas would require efforts on many fronts. Naturally, one of the first areas to come to mind is education and indeed, improving schools has been a hallmark of the Huckabee administration. However, his past experiences counseling children led him to realize often there are underlying factors to a child's performance in school. Some could not pay attention because of poor teeth never treated by a dentist. Others could not see or hear well, yet had never been tested. Mike knew these problems required addressing if Arkansas was to realize academic improvement for all students.
A key to this broad-based effort came about with his signing of the ARKids First Act. Basically a health insurance program, ARKids First allows children to receive regular medical checkups. By utilizing a Medicaid wavier to establish ARKids First, Mike Huckabee led the effort to implement the program six months before any other state, even as those states utilized the federal State Children’s Health Insurance Program. Because of his proactive leadership, Arkansas was literally able to take care of our kids first.
Today, ARKids First is a program providing health coverage to thousands of otherwise uninsured Arkansas children. It costs only a fraction of our overall healthcare budget yet is an essential investment in Arkansas' future, providing preventive care helping keep kids healthy. Now, instead of spending their time in costly emergency rooms, children are more likely where they should be, in school learning. ARKids First placed the focus on preventing illness rather than treating the results of poor healthcare. More broadly, it helps families leave welfare rolls by eliminating old regulations which removed children from Medicaid when parents became employed. ARKids First insures children of working families earning too much for assistance under old regulations, but otherwise not able to afford health insurance.
In the first year, more than 30,000 Arkansas children were enrolled in ARKids First. Today, more than 175,000 children are enrolled in ARKids First with more than 7,000 new families applying each month. Of these applications, typically 75 percent of the families are approved. Now, through ARKids First, children have access to doctors and dentists and can receive prescription drugs and eye glasses.
Healthcare costs associated with America’s use of tobacco products has been a growing public policy issue since the 1970s. Increasing levels of disease and chronic illness associated with tobacco now sit at epidemic proportions. While recognizing tobacco use is a personal prerogative, Americans also recognized it costs this country billions of dollars and countless lives each year. As a result of these and other factors, a group of state attorneys general filed suit against the nation’s largest tobacco manufacturers seeking recovery of public funds expended treating tobacco-related illnesses.
On Nov. 28, 1998, a historic settlement, extending over 25 years and projected to reach in excess of $25 billion, was reached with the tobacco companies. At the time, estimates for the Arkansas share were approximately $1.6 billion, or $62 million over the life of the agreement. To Mike Huckabee, it was clear a plan was needed to properly spend this money, safeguarding it to be spent in the manner in which the lawsuit said it should be spent. At the time of the settlement, disagreements raged in many states regarding whether tobacco settlement money should be spent on funding education, building highways, or cutting taxes. Under Mike's leadership, such animosity was not the case in Arkansas. Outside Arkansas, and indeed some within the state, wondered why he refused to consider spending the money on other needs. Mike realized the stark realities of the situation. What Arkansans faced was was simple: the third-highest rate of tobacco use in the nation. That staggering statistic guaranteed an equally high rate of tobacco related illness. Compounding the crisis, large numbers of Arkansans lacked even basic health insurance coverage, and some regions in Arkansas suffered without sufficient healthcare facilities. For Mike Huckabee, it was easy to champion obligating expending the tobacco settlement funds in an effort to correct those deficiencies.
Under Mike's leadership, for the next 18 months, the state’s top healthcare officials worked to create the best possible plan for spending the tobacco settlement funds improving the health of all Arkansans. This group knew Arkansas had good doctors, fine health care facilities where those facilities existed, and an outstanding state Department of Health. What Arkansas did not have was a mechanism for promoting healthy lifestyles. Countless meetings occurred across Arkansas obtaining input from legislators, advocacy group representatives and others. Mike Huckabee proudly endorsed the result, a plan created by the Coalition for a Healthy Arkansas Today (CHART), recognizing it represented a way for countless Arkansas to become healthier, rather than a way for a handful of politically-connected folks to become wealthier.
The list of more than 100 healthcare organization groups who created and endorsed this plan sounded much like a “Who’s Who of Arkansas Healthcare.” With their backing, in April of 2003, Governor Huckabee convened a special session of the Arkansas General Assembly seeking enact the plan endorsed by CHART. However, as sometimes is the case, politics interfered with good government and the plan hit a major roadblock in the House Rules Committee. Sadly, the session adjourned without a plan to spend the tobacco settlement money.
Undaunted, Mike Huckabee decided to do what he did best and take the issue directly to the people. He felt in his heart, and had proven in the past, the people of Arkansas would respond positively to an issue if it was in the best interests of Arkansas and her citizens. Beginning immediately, he undertook leadership of a campaign to provide Arkansans with the information necessary to make a rational decision on how to spend this money. A short seven months later and the Arkansas voters wisely decided to invest all the tobacco settlement into making Arkansas a healthier place to live. Today, Arkansas is recognized by the American Lung Association as one of only four states in the nation appropriately spending the allocated funds as recommended by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Additional recognition came with an article from Project Hope, in their on-line journal Health Afrrairs: The Policy Journal of the Health Sphere. Quoting from their article, "Arkansas’ success demonstrates the need for political leadership, the development and insertion of empirical health information into the policy deliberations, in-depth knowledge of the political process, and a broad-based coalition committed to improving health."
Health would be again be foremost on Mike Huckabee's mind, but this time on a much more personal level, when he lost his close personal friend, former governor Frank White, to a heart attack. At about the same time, a "robust" Mike Huckabee began to experience serious health related problems himself, including a diagnosis of Type II diabetes and the early stages of heart problems. His personal physician gave him the unvarnished truth - change his lifestyle or realize he was enjoying probably his last 10 years on this earth. This news was all it took for Mike to embark on a change in his life, not a diet, but a true "lifestyle" change. 110 pounds later, Mike realized his faith and determination could be extended to exercise too and a couple laps walking around the governor's mansion grounds soon became his first 5K road race. Competing in this 5K run brought an invitation/challenge to train for the Little Rock Marathon and another notch on his ever shrinking belt was tallied when he completed the 26.2 mile course in March of 2004. As 2006 wound to a close, Mike finished the New York Marathon, his fourth in two short years.
Realizing others could accomplish what he did with but a little encouragement and assistance, Mike Huckabee launched the Healthy Arkansas initiative. This program built on the previous successes of ARKids First and CHART, a next logical step aimed at improving the health of Arkansans through lifestyle changes. Healthy Arkansas focused upon three primary areas of improvement: physical activity, nutrition, and the elimination of tobacco use. Mike's staff teamed up with the Arkansas Department of Heath and Human Services to provide Arkansans with helpful information to stay active, eat healthy, and quit smoking. To ensure success, Mike fostered collaborations with diverse governmental and private entities ranging from the Arkansas Department of Education, the Arkansas Stamp Out Smoking Program, Healthy Baby, the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement, Eli Lilly and Company, and Gerber Products Company.
Building on the success of the Healthy Arkansas initiative, Mike Huckabee directed the creation of the Healthy Arkansas Restaurant Award, a program identifying restaurants providing healthy eating choices and healthy environments. Restaurants are evaluated on smoke-free criteria, healthy menu alternatives and the availability of nutritional information for menu items.
Mike Huckabee insisted technology play a role in providing improved healthcare opportunities for Arkansans. Under his direction, the Healthy Arkansas Web site was created, providing useful tools, links and information. It contains a database of community programs and even locations of walking trails around the state. By visiting this Web site, Arkansans can search for free or low-cost health programs, activities, and facilities in their communities.
Adding to the ways healthcare information is provided to citizens in Arkansas, Mike Huckabee introduced the Healthy Arkansas Better State of Health Guidebook in September of 2005. This guidebook provides useful health information for Arkansans of all ages, including a county-by-county listing of community resources. The guidebooks are free and can be requested on the Healthy Arkansas website.
Allergic to tobacco smoke himself, Mike Huckabee continually heard from citizens concerned about the hazards of second hand smoke in the areas they frequented. As a result, he proposed the Arkansas Clean Indoor Air Act during a special session of the Arkansas Legislature. Written to protect workers, children and consumers from the hazardous effects of secondhand smoke, this legislation proposed elimination of smoking in workplaces and public areas statewide, including most restaurants and bars. It mandated businesses with three or more employees and businesses that are open to the public, regardless the number of employees, eliminate smoking in all indoor, enclosed areas. Passed by the legislature and signed into law by Governor Huckabee, The Arkansas Clean Indoor Air Act took effect on July 21, 2006.
Shortly after implementation, the Arkansas Department of Health and Human Services made available the Breath Easy Arkansas program and website, designed to ease the state's transition to a smoke-free environment. More information regarding the Arkansas Clean Indoor Air Act and rules and regulations associated with implementing the Act may be found on this website at http://www.arcleanair.com/
Under the leadership of Mike Huckabee, Arkansas has come a long way toward his goal to make Arkansas one of the healthiest states in the nation. Today, Arkansans are a healthier state because of the Clean Indoor Air Act, and can expect to begin to reap the economic benefits fostered by maintaining a smoke-free environment