Helping our kids

Saturday, September 8, 2007

get a healthy start

Dear Editor:

The U.S. Census Bureau recently released data showing that the number of Missouri children lacking health insurance jumped in the past year by over 23,000, from 104,000 to 127,000. The fact that one of every 11 Missouri kids lacks health care coverage is strong evidence of the need for Congress and the President to work together on the reauthorization and expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), which is set to expire at the end of September.

Since its creation 10 years ago, SCHIP has helped states like Missouri provide health insurance to the children of millions of lower-income families. These working families do not earn enough to be able to afford private insurance but earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, thus putting them in a no-man's land where they are unable to provide health care coverage for their children. SCHIP helps these families using a sliding scale based upon their income, which means that in order for their children to participate, many families pay a premium to SCHIP.
In Missouri, the SCHIP program -- termed MC+ for Kids -- currently covers approximately 73,000 children. The SCHIP program offers health benefits that ensure that children receive preventive care, screenings for physical and developmental health problems, and health care services that allow them to grow into healthy and productive adults.

SCHIP is a wise investment on principle alone, but because the federal government actually matches state funding for the program, it makes financial sense as well, as the state of Missouri spent only $346,299 in fiscal year 2005 general revenue to cover the 73,000 kids under MC+ for Kids.

The SCHIP program has provided a safety net for our children at a time when there has been a decrease in employer-sponsored insurance and an increase in the number of uninsured adults. In fact, the recently-released Census data showed that the overall number of uninsured people in Missouri has also increased dramatically, by 104,000 people from 2005 to 2006, a 16 percent increase.
This new Census data demonstrates why concern over health care is the number one issue on the minds of Missourians. And, at least in terms of taking care of our children, there is a simple step our policymakers can take to address the issue.
Both chambers of Congress recently passed legislation reauthorizing the SCHIP program, but the House and Senate versions contained different funding levels for the program and must be reconciled in a conference committee before being sent to the President for his approval.
With so many kids lacking health insurance, the reauthorization of SCHIP provides policymakers with the opportunity to not only fund the program at a level sufficient to maintain coverage for those already enrolled, but to increase funding so that even more of our state's uninsured children can receive health coverage and get off to a health start in life.
Congress and the President can and should work together to make sure that no child in America has to go without basic health care, because the cost of failing to provide health coverage to our kids far outweighs the costs of reauthorizing and expanding the SCHIP program. Children lacking health insurance coverage are more likely to go without immunizations, miss school because of an untreated illness, have less access to primary care, and make use of hospital emergency rooms for conditions that could be prevented by visiting their doctor.
While there is much debate over the best solutions to help make quality, affordable health care more accessible the 47 million Americans that lack coverage, there should be agreement that covering more of our country's children by reauthorizing and expanding the successful SCHIP program is a good first step.


Leslie Reed

Vice President for Health Policy

at the Missouri Foundation for Health