By Ericka Thoms
President Bush kept his promise and rejected the will of the Congress and the demands of Americans to insure 10 million children. With his veto he saddled states with millions of dollars of debt as they try to keep up their end of the promise to working families and the children who are counting on the grown-ups to get it right.
Few government programs have had the level of success and support that the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) have had. In its five years, the number of uninsured children has dropped by one-third. Unfortunately, the number of children without healthcare coverage has started increasing again as fewer employers are offering insurance benefits. In 2006, 600,000 more children were added to the rolls of the uninsured.
Last week I had the chance to meet a mother whose daughter was enrolled in Healthy Start, Ohio’s SCHIP program. She told me about the amazing progress her daughter, who has Down’s syndrome, made because she had access to a wide range of therapies that helped Emily meet the developmental challenges she faced head on. Margaret left her job to care for Emily full time while her husband worked six and a half days a week running his own contracting business. They were doing ok. Then her husband’s business picked up just enough to push them out of range to be eligible for the program. He made $113 more a month than the year before and that was it. For the cost of a weekly trip to the grocery store, Emily lost her coverage.
Margaret tried to keep up Emily’s therapies, but when that first bill came for $3,750 she knew there was no way. And she wondered how she was going to help Emily maintain her progress. With the new expansion passed in Ohio, Emily will once again be able to enroll in Healthy Start and benefit from the care that is going to help her become all that she can be.
In many ways SCHIP is the best example of partnership and innovation we value so greatly as Americans. It has brought Republicans and Democrats together to design legislation for working families. It has brought state and federal government together to create plans responsive to the needs of each state and mindful of the fiscal pressures on the federal budget. It has provided an opportunity for the private and public sector to come together to provide health care for our children.
If this isn’t motivation enough to renew SCHIP, there are 10 million more; the children who will be insured. Multiply that number by the parents who won’t have to worry about how they are going to pay for their child’s vaccinations or setting a broken leg or getting antibiotics. The ripple effect that this kind of program has on families cannot be underestimated. By removing some of the financial pressures facing millions, SCHIP is an investment in the security and strength of working families.
We are often instructed to do for the least among us. But surely these are not the only people who need their communities and their elected representatives to stand by them. Every week we hear about the soaring rise in health care costs and while it seems like little is being done to curb that growth, families who once were able to pay the mortgage, keep up with the utility bills, keep food in the house, and try to make sure they stay healthy are now faced with a balancing act. Can the electric bill wait another month so we can meet the mortgage? Can I skip this year’s doctor’s appointment so we can stretch this month’s food budget? These families may not be the poorest among us, but it is time their needs were valued just as much.
Americans recognize that working families are struggling to provide health care for their children and they want our leaders to do something about it. According to a poll by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, nine out of 10 voters believe SCHIP should be reauthorized and nearly two thirds believe Congress should provide an additional $35 billion over the next five years. Americans have spoken loud and clear on the issue and it is time that our elected officials follow their lead. If the president won’t, then the Congress must.
Thoms is a policy and planning associate with The Center for Community Solutions.