KIDS COUNT Report: R.I. insured rate 3rd best in U.S.; challenges include opioid births, mental health needs

The RI KIDS COUNT Fact book places RI among the three highest in the U.S. for the percentage of children with health insurance, at 98 percent. / COURTESY RHODE ISLAND KIDS COUNT
The RI KIDS COUNT Fact book places RI among the three highest in the U.S. for the percentage of children with health insurance, at 98 percent. / COURTESY RHODE ISLAND KIDS COUNT

PROVIDENCE — Rhode Island boasts 98 percent of children covered by health insurance, but child health challenges include newborns whose mothers used opioids, the popularity of E-cigarettes and a growing need for mental health services, according to the 24th annual Rhode Island KIDS COUNT Factbook.

The 2018 Rhode Island Kids Count Factbook, released Monday, charts improvements and declines in the well-being of Rhode Island’s 208,640 children. Factbook indicators cover five interrelated categories: family and community, economic well-being, health, safety and education.

Rhode Island boasts the third best score in the U.S. on the percentage of its children with health care insurance, according to the report. Vermont was second with 98.4 percent, and Massachusetts was first with 99.1 percent of its children with health insurance, according to US Census data.

Between 2014 and 2016, the estimated percentage of children covered exclusively by their parents’ employer-sponsored health plan increased from 51 to 53 percent, and the percentage of children insured exclusively by Medicaid/Rite Care decreased from 33 percent to 31 percent.

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Fewer Rhode Island children suffered opioid exposure in the first moments of their lives this year, according to the report. The condition, known as Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome is marked by the withdrawal and negative effects experienced by newborns of mothers who use opioids and other drugs during pregnancy.

In Rhode Island in 2016, 96 babies were diagnosed with NAS, a rate of 89.5 per 10,000 births; down from 114 babies (103.8 per 10,000 births) in 2015. However, the report cautions, the number is still more than double the 37.2 rate recorded in 2006. Eighty-six percent of babies born with NAS between 2012 and 2016 in Rhode Island were born to white mothers, and 86 percent were born to mothers who were covered by Medicaid.

Access to mental health services also remained a challenge, according to the report. In 2016, there were 3,318 emergency department visits and 2,476 hospitalizations of Rhode Island children with a primary diagnosis of mental disorder. Between 2007 and 2016, such emergency department visits increased 24 percent and hospitalizations increased by 38 percent, according to the report.

In the years since Rite Smiles, the state’s managed dental care program, launched in 2006, the number of dentists participating in the program has risen from 27 to 385, according to the report. Fifty percent of the 65,868 children enrolled in Rite Care, Rite Share or Medicaid fee-for-service in 2017 received dental services, an increase of 52 percent since 2006.

Each year between 2012 and 2016, an average of 73 people younger than 19 were hospitalized with an oral health condition.

Rhode Island youth are much more likely to use E-cigarettes than conventional cigarettes, according to the report.

Cigarette use has reached record low levels among U.S. middle and high school students. In Rhode Island in 2017, 6 percent of high school students reported currently smoking cigarettes and 19 percent reported having ever smoked cigarettes.

In Rhode Island in 2017, 20 percent of high school students reported current use of e-cigarettes and 40 percent reported having ever used e-cigarettes.

The report also had the following points of good news for children’s health:

Rhode Island has high rates of childhood and adolescent immunizations.

  • Despite an increase in immunization exemptions, Rhode Island rates for several vaccines are the best in the country. According to the 2016 National Immunization Survey–Teen, Rhode Island adolescents ranked first in the U.S. for the 1+MenACWY vaccine; first for the 1+HPV and 3+HPV vaccines for males and females; and second for the 1+Tdap vaccine. •
  • Of the immunizations needed for admission to schools, kindergarteners had coverage rates between 95 and 98 percent, while those entering seventh grade had rates between 74 and 99 percent.

“The 2018 Rhode Island Kids Count Factbook shows challenges and improvements for child and family outcomes across Rhode Island, said Elizabeth Burke Bryant, JD. executive director of Rhode Island KIDS COUNT.

“We have made great progress as a state, but we have much more work to do,” said Bryant.

Rob Borkowski is a PBN staff writer. Email him at

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