LITTLE ROCK — The percentage of children without health insurance in Arkansas has declined in recent years, though tens of thousands of children in the state remain uninsured, according to a report released Wednesday.

LITTLE ROCK — The percentage of children without health insurance in Arkansas has declined in recent years, though tens of thousands of children in the state remain uninsured, according to a report released Wednesday.

The uninsured rate among the state’s children dropped from 9.4 percent to 7.3 percent between 2008 and 2010, the nonprofit group Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families said in its report, “Crossing the Finish Line: Cutting the Red Tape in 2011,” which analyzes new data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

The group also said the state has more work to do, as 54,000 children remain uninsured.

Between 2008 and 2010, the number of children insured under ARKids First, Medicaid and the state Children’s Health Insurance Program grew by 10 percent, or 40,000 children, according to the report.

During the same period, the number of children eligible for ARKids First — which is open to those under 200 percent of the federal poverty line — but not enrolled in the program decreased from 12.1 percent to 8.6 percent.

In 2009, Arkansas lawmakers passed legislation to extend the eligibility threshold for ARKids First, which provides basic health coverage to the children of Arkansas’ working poor, to 250 percent of the federal poverty line. But the legislation has not been implemented because of budget concerns. Arkansas Advocates urged the state to implement the measure.

Among children who would have become eligible under the ARKids expansion, the uninsured rate dropped by 1 percentage point between 2008 and 2010, compared to a 5.5 percent drop among children whose families’ income is between 100 and 199 percent of the federal poverty line, according to the report.

“The uninsured rate has not dropped as dramatically for children in families just above the income limits for ARKids First; funding the 2009 legislation to expand coverage to 250 percent of poverty could have helped these families obtain and maintain coverage,” the group said in the report.

DHS spokeswoman Amy Webb said Wednesday the state does not have the money to expand eligibility for the program.

“That is a goal we would like to achieve, but we do not have the funding to do it. Already we are expecting shortfalls in Medicaid (by July 2013) upwards of $200 million, and we’ve got to work to ensure that we continue covering those we already cover before we add coverage for additional ones,” she said.

Arkansas Advocates also said in the report that among the state’s 11 most populous counties, Washington County had the largest percentage of uninsured children in 2010 with 11.2 percent. It was followed by Faulkner, 9.8 percent; Garland, 9 percent; Lonoke, 8.9 percent; White, 8.3 percent; Sebastian 7.2 percent; Saline, 6.6 percent; Pulaski, 6.4 percent; Benton, 6.4 percent; Craighead, 5.1 percent; and Jefferson, 3.9 percent.

Preschool-age children were more likely to be added to the rolls of the insured than school-age children, according to the report. The percentage of uninsured children under age 6 decreased from 7 percent to 3 percent between 2008 and 2010, while the percentage of children 6 or older decreased from 10 percent to 9 percent.

This was “thanks in part to efforts by the state’s Head Start, Arkansas Better Chance, child care and other early childhood programs to address child health,” Arkansas Advocates said.

The group also urged the state to reach out to more uninsured children and to implement Act 771 of 2011, which would streamline the process for enrolling and renewing membership in ARKids First.

Implementing the measure by April 2012 would allow the state to compete for federal bonus awards for which it otherwise would not qualify, the group said.

Webb said DHS is working on outreach efforts and on implementation of the various provisions of Act 771.

She said that in the spring the agency plans to start sending teams out in vans to enroll families in areas where large numbers of children are eligible for ARKids First but are not enrolled. In a month or two, the agency plans to replace its ARKids First renewal form with a new streamlined form that will require only a signature to complete, she said.

Webb said she did not know whether Act 771 would be fully implemented by April, but she said the agency is working as fast as it can.

“We agree that we would like to cover all of those eligible. It’s just a matter of reaching them, and we are working to do that,” she said.

Other policy recommendations in the report include protecting ARKids First and Medicaid from cuts to eligibility or services and remembering the needs of entire families as the state implements the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

“It’s time to put politics aside and do what we know will work to cross the finish line and cover all children and families in Arkansas,” the group said.