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Health Care Reform Must Include Children

  • Blog Post by: Rev. Peg Chemberlin
  • October 19, 2009 - 1:18 PM

As Health Care Reform continues to be debated by our nations’ leaders, the media, and in the public arena, as well as around private dinner tables, child advocates urgently raise the need for children’s health care to be included in the reform.

We cannot afford to leave the health of our children to our present system where more than 9 million children are going without coverage.

Under the current proposals, children will be covered under either Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Medicaid will cover children in families earning up 133 percent of the Federal Poverty Guideline (about $22,050 for a family of four).  CHIP, which allows states to set their own eligibility levels, will end in 2013 under the current authorization.  At this time it is estimated that 14.1 million children will be covered by CHIP.

It is crucial that these children are allowed to continue coverage at the same level. If these children are moved from CHIP into an “Exchange” where they will shop for coverage that is affordable for their families, many children will go into programs that carry higher premiums, co-pays and cost-sharing than they have had under CHIP, as well as programs that are not as comprehensive but less expensive, or go uncovered due to the difficulty of the choice. No child should be left worse off as a result of health care reform.

An uninsured child costs the local community $2,100 more than a child with Medicaid or CHIP. Children covered by insurance miss fewer days of school and perform better than uninsured children. Primary care doctor visits cost less than emergency room visits. Good oral health care begun early, in the first year of life, cuts average cost of dental care in half. Every $1 spent on vaccinations for children saves $16 in medical and other costs. The cost effectiveness of providing health care to all children makes sound financial sense. And children are the least expensive population group to cover.

Health care reform is complicated, but ensuring that children have access to the health care they need is not. Just as Medicare for our senior population created a whole generation with longer life and greater health, providing easily accessible, affordable and comprehensive health care for every child would do the same for each new generation.

Changes that Would Provide REAL Health Care Reform for Our Children:

  1. Coverage must be affordable for all children and pregnant women, with a national eligibility floor of 300% of the federal poverty level ($66,150/yr for family of four) and an affordable sliding scale buy-in above that level. Research shows that high premiums prevent families from applying for coverage, and also cause them to drop coverage. In addition, high co-pays can dissuade families from accessing needed services.
  1. Benefits must be comprehensive, and guarantee every child access to all medically necessary services, mental, dental and physical, beginning with pre-natal care.
  1. The system must be simple and seamless with short applications, without asset and resource tests or waiting lists, and moves children into coverage as fast as possible with a 12-month enrollment and automatic renewal.

Providing all children quality health coverage makes sense morally as well as economically. It is the right thing to do and the smart thing to do. Healthy children mean a healthy community and a healthy future for everyone. We can’t afford to leave them out. CHIP must be expanded and extended.

“In a decent society, there are certain obligations that are not subject to tradeoffs or negotiation – health care for our children is one of those obligations.” President Obama, Feb.4,2009

With thanks to Norma Bourland, Children’s Defense Fund

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