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For Immediate Release
November 4, 2009
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Becky Watt Knight
Washington, DC – Thousands of children, parents, grandparents, faith leaders and other child advocates took their walking shoes and baby strollers to the U.S. Capitol today to demand that Congress ensure pending health reform legislation meets the needs of the 8.1 million uninsured children―and millions more who are underinsured―before the process is over. The Champions for Children’s Health Stroller Brigade was led by Marian Wright Edelman, President of the Children’s Defense Fund, who welcomed Senator Bob Casey’s (D-PA) announcement that he would offer a "children's amendment" when the health reform bill goes to the Senate floor to ensure that children will not be left out or left behind.
The Brigade participants delivered the message that the current health reform bills fall far short of the mark of real child health reform. Millions of children would be worse off than they are now if the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) is eliminated as the House proposes and turned over to a far more expensive new Health Insurance Exchange largely driven by insurance companies.
Earlier this year, Congress approved and the President signed with much fanfare the reauthorization of CHIP. Edelman said this was "another important step in the more than three decade journey toward ensuring all children a healthy start in life and a successful transition to adulthood. Now is an historic opportunity to finish the job once and for all. We believe that every child’s life is of equal value and that children should be assured a strong health safety net wherever they live in America. President Obama correctly said when he signed the CHIP bill in February that 'in a decent society, there are certain obligations that are not subject to tradeoffs or negotiations―health care for children is one of those obligations.' CDF could not agree more. We must ensure: All Children. All Care. Everywhere."
The Brigade participants called for coverage and care for all children that is comprehensive, affordable and easily accessible. Currently, six million of the 8.1 million uninsured children are eligible for either CHIP or Medicaid but are not enrolled. Experts say this is largely due to state bureaucratic barriers that make it needlessly challenging for families to find their way into the system and to stay there. We know how to fix this by building on best practices and requiring all states to follow them. In addition, comprehensive health and mental health care are covered for children in Medicaid but only for some CHIP children, and no one knows what will be offered to children in the Exchange.
"We cannot simply force children into an untested, new and far costlier Exchange. The President has said that we should build on what works, and that principle ought to apply to children. We can save money and lives by keeping children in CHIP. We should improve and keep it― not kill it. The Exchange may be what insurance companies want, but health care reform should not be paid for on the backs of children," said Edelman.
Every year, 28,000 children die before their first birthday. Today, 938 babies will be born at low birth weight and 2,224 will be born without health insurance. "It would be unconscionable for our leaders to bail out irresponsible bankers to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars overnight, but fail to bail out our babies and children in need. They simply cannot let the health reform train leave the station until all of our children are safely aboard," Edelman stated.
This sentiment was echoed in a letter sent by faith leaders to every Member of Congress: "Children cannot wait. Their brains and bones and spirit are being formed right now. We call on Congress and the President to act now with moral sense, common sense, and economic sense to ensure all children real health reform."
The Children’s Defense Fund―along with 60 national supporting organizations and nearly 100 state and local organizations―kicked off the Champions for Children’s Health Stroller Brigades today with similar brigades being held in cities across the country when members return home to their districts, November 5–8. In each location, participants will call upon our political leaders to support improvements proposed by Senator Casey that will take doable, achievable and cost-effective steps to ensure children have the health care they need, no matter where they live, by expanding and improving CHIP. Specifically:
1. End bureaucratic barriers that keep 2 out of 3 of the 8.1 million uninsured children who are already eligible for CHIP or Medicaid from actually getting the care they need. A simple, seamless enrollment process would ensure children are covered and cared for immediately.
"For years, officials in every state have said they will fix the problem but too few have actually done so," said Edelman. "We have found a way to automatically enroll older Americans in Medicare. Surely we can find a family-friendly way to ensure that all eligible children are enrolled and actually get the coverage they need and deserve."
2. Guarantee children have access to the full range of health and mental health benefits they need which are now provided to all children in Medicaid but only some children in CHIP.
"All children are of equal value and they deserve equal protections and equal access to all essential services," said Edelman.
3. Eliminate the unjust lottery of state geography and establish an affordable national health safety net for all children whose family income is below 300 percent of the federal poverty level ($66,000 for a family of four). Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia already have 300 percent eligibility, and we should make it a national standard.
"The current practice of every state setting a different eligibility level subjects children to an unfair lottery of geography," said Edelman. "Children everywhere need a high quality national health safety net just as we provide to seniors in Medicare. A child in North Dakota or Mississippi is no less valuable than a child in Massachusetts or New York."
For more information, visit www.childrensdefense.org/strollerbrigade.