Health reform bills pending in the House and the Senate would make millions of children worse off after health reform than they are now. This must not happen. The House bill eliminates the successful Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) in 2013 and would move millions of children who had been in CHIP to a completely new, untested and far more expensive Health Insurance Exchange where parents will end up paying more for their children to receive fewer assured benefits. The Senate Finance Committee bill keeps the CHIP Program, saving billions of dollars in the process, which should be invested in making CHIP even better. The Director of the Congressional Budget Office says that covering children in CHIP costs taxpayers far less than covering them in the Exchange and is a better way to ensure children affordable health coverage. The President says we ought to build on what works. I strongly agree. Let’s keep CHIP, guarantee it for all eligible children, and make it work simply and justly for children in every state.
Children need an effective national health safety net. Congress can and must provide it now. Children cannot wait, and meeting their health and mental health care needs should not only not be debatable, but should be the first and most urgent priority in a wealthy, decent and sensible nation. Their brains and bones and spirits are being formed right now.
Yet this day, 78 babies will die before their first birthday; 964 will be born at low birthweight; 2,224 will be born without health insurance; and 2,222 children will drop out of high school, many because they could not see or hear the teacher or sit still due to an undiagnosed attention deficit disorder or mental illness. And this day, thousands of children all across America are being inappropriately detained in costly juvenile detention facilities because community based mental health services were not available to address their special needs. Children should not have to be incarcerated to get mental health care. And no child should have to wait until they are 65 to get the health safety net senior citizens rightly enjoy.
Final health reform legislation must include a comprehensive, affordable and accessible child health system wherever children live. Every adult must urge your Senators to build on what works for children by keeping CHIP and supporting expansions and improvements to it when the Senate health reform bill goes to the floor. Senator Bob Casey (PA) has stepped up as a strong Champion for Children’s Health and will introduce a critical amendment on the Senate floor to: (1) end the bureaucratic barriers that now keep 2 out of 3 of the more than 8 million uninsured children already eligible for CHIP or Medicaid from actually getting the care they need. Older Americans are automatically covered by Medicare. Children also need a simple, seamless enrollment process to assure they can get health coverage and keep it; (2) guarantee every child access to the full range of health and mental health benefits they need including preventive and specialized services now provided to all children in Medicaid but not to millions of children in CHIP; and (3) eliminate the unjust lottery of geography and require an affordable national health safety net for children in all states in families with incomes below 300 percent of the federal poverty level ($66,150 for a family of four). Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia have already reached this goal of covering children up to 300% of poverty; two states exceed this goal. All children’s lives are of equal value wherever they live in America.
Children only get one chance at childhood, and we adults may only have this one chance in our lifetime to help pass health care for all with comprehensive health reform that will help all children survive and thrive. Our nation must not continue to sacrifice millions of child and youth lives to preventable sickness and death and to a costly prison pipeline that is grinding up the precious and sacred seed corn of America’s future. We will reap what we sow, and if we invest in our children now we will gain strong adults who are healthy, educated and prepared to lead and compete in our globalizing world. This makes moral sense, common sense and economic sense.
We adults are responsible for ensuring children better lives and a fairer nation than we inherited. People of faith are called to speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves and to reflect God’s special concern and priority for children and those who are poor and most vulnerable and excluded. When your Senators are at home over Veteran’s Day recess, let them hear a mighty noise from you through phone calls, visits, emails, letters, community meetings, and whatever else you can think of. Tell them to keep and fix the effective and cost effective CHIP program and not to hand over millions of children who were in CHIP to an untested and far costlier Exchange driven largely by insurance companies who will profit at the expense of our children’s wellbeing. This is wrong for children and for taxpayers. Support Senator Casey’s amendment to protect children on the Senate floor and insist your Senators commit to voting for it. For more information, go to the CDF Action Council’s website, www.cdfactioncouncil.org.