Expanding Health Coverage To Uninsured Children

David J. Valesky

September 20, 2007

There are more than 400,000 children in New York state that do not have health insurance. To put that number in perspective, that is equal to the entire population of Onondaga County, including the City of Syracuse and the well populated suburban towns of Cicero, Manlius and Clay. It is an astounding number.

These uninsured children live in all regions of the state and come from diverse backgrounds. Many of these children are urban poor. Others are from rural communities, including farming families that have few places to turn for health coverage. And many are from families who are struggling with employment in these uncertain economic times. In fact, the majority of New York’s uninsured kids are the children of the state’s working poor, who hold one, two or three jobs, yet have no health benefits.

For several reasons, it is in all of our interest to make sure our state’s children are insured. For
starters, it is cheaper to insure these children than to treat them with emergency care when problems do arise. Studies show that uninsured patients actually end up costing the entire health system, and all of the insured, more than the cost of coverage.
Second, on the statewide level, children’s health coverage is cheap. While individual plans are expensive, when pooled together, children are the most affordable group to cover, in part because of their youth and general good health.

Finally, appropriate health coverage makes it possible for children to focus on their education, and other things that will help make them productive future citizens. Without health care, children can fall through the cracks of society and cost all of us a lot more in the long run.
All this adds up to show that covering children is not just morally right, it is sound public policy.
That is why, earlier this year, the Governor proposed and the Legislature adopted a plan to extend health coverage to all children in the state, through the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) -- Child Health Plus. This plan was backed by Republicans and Democrats; businesses and health care providers; doctors and patients.

Unfortunately, in August of this year the Bush administration in Washington adopted new federal rules that restrict eligibility for SCHIP programs. This move not only stopped our state’s initiative to reduce the number of uninsured children, but because of this decision the number of uninsured children will actually increase in the years ahead.

The Governor has written the President to express his disappointment with the decision. I would encourage all New Yorkers who support health coverage for children -- and our state’s right to determine how we deal with this problem -- to write our federal representatives and express our concern about the Bush administration’s ruling on the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.