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Child Watch® Column: "Making Health Coverage for All Children a Reality in 2007"

Release Date: January 19, 2007

Marian Wright Edelman

As the new political year gets off to a start, many leaders are spending a lot of time talking about what they want to accomplish for the American people. Our leaders do not know how to extricate from the Iraq and Afghanistan quagmire, stop nuclear proliferation in Iran and North Korea, or bring a lasting peace in the Middle East. But we do know how to solve the crisis of uninsured children. It is disgraceful and costly to let more than nine million children in America -- the richest nation in the world -- go without health coverage. Another uninsured baby is born every 46 seconds. As Congress must act to reauthorize funding for the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) this year, it has a special opportunity and responsibility to take the next logical, moral, and achievable steps to ensure health and mental health coverage for all children in America as a significant down payment on health coverage for all Americans.

CDF offers its proposal as Congress prepares to reauthorize funding for SCHIP, a program CDF championed in 1997. Children's Medicaid and SCHIP have made significant progress in improving children's health insurance in the past decade. Currently over 30 million children are covered by Medicaid (25 million) and SCHIP (5 million). But one in nine children in America is still uninsured. Almost 90 percent of them live in working households, and a majority in two parent households. Millions more children are underinsured. Chronic budget shortfalls, enrollment processes that can often be confusing, and dramatic variations in eligibility and coverage from state to state prevent millions of currently eligible children from leading healthy lives and realizing their full potential in school and when they become adults.

According to a Hart Research poll conducted for CDF, more than three-fourths of Americans think it is "important" or "extremely important" for elected leaders in Washington to provide health care for all children in America now. Almost seven in 10 think the federal government is doing "too little" to help children who don't have health insurance coverage. It's clearly time for a change and for our leaders in both political parties to catch up with their voters. CDF's proposal would ensure comprehensive health and mental health coverage for all children in America. It would simplify and consolidate children's health coverage under Medicaid and SCHIP into a single program that decreases bureaucracy and guarantees children in all 50 states and the District of Columbia all medically necessary services. A child's chance to survive and thrive should not depend on the lottery of geography.

In the same research poll, when Americans were asked to choose among a variety of possible reasons for providing health insurance to all children, they thought the most important was that "children cannot take care of themselves, and it is especially important that they get regular medical care so they grow up healthy." And when they were asked to choose which statement came closest to their view about why it is important to provide health insurance to uninsured children, some said it was "the right thing to do" or "the fair thing to do," but even more said it is "the smart thing to do." Health care coverage for all children is certainly the smart thing to do, and the Congress and President have fallen behind what the country wants and needs. How we take care of our children speaks to our very values as a society. With your voice telling Congress that health coverage for all children is a must do in 2007 for your vote in 2008, we can do it, and show our children we care.

To learn more about CDF's proposal and how you can take action, visit childrensdefense.org/healthychild.