Childhood gets no medical do-overs

August 15, 2009 

Over the last decade, we have made huge gains in children's health insurance coverage because of the success of the State Children's Health Insurance Program and Medicaid. These two programs are the cornerstones of coverage for children, including two of every five children in North Carolina. The success of SCHIP and Medicaid in covering kids in our state shows that the problem of lack of coverage is one we can solve.

Congress is currently debating health-care reform bills. With the leadership of our congressional delegation, health reform can build on the progress of SCHIP and Medicaid and finish the job of covering all children.

For health-care reform to be viewed as a success, it must ensure that everyone has access to high-quality, affordable care -- that includes the millions of children who remain uninsured or who can't get the services they need, despite having an insurance card. Every child should be able to count on good health care and access to the care they need, when they need it. As health reform legislation moves forward, we urge Congress to:

Do no harm to children. Health reform should not turn back the clock on the progress our nation has achieved for children's health coverage. Before making any changes to Medicaid or SCHIP, Congress must ensure that vulnerable children do not fall through the cracks during any transition phase. Furthermore, children should receive comparable benefits at an affordable price under any program. We ask that children not be moved out of SCHIP until a successor program is operational, with coverage that is equal to or better than what is currently available under SCHIP.

Insure all children. More than 260,000 children in North Carolina are uninsured -- enough to reach from Greensboro to Wilmington holding hands. Six million of the nation's nine million uninsured children are eligible but not enrolled in public health coverage. Eliminating red tape and bureaucracy by simplifying enrollment would be the cheapest, quickest and smartest first step toward covering the lowest-income kids. Parents should have a hassle-free way to secure coverage for their children.

Cover children from head to toe. All children need coverage that meets their unique developmental needs and provides them with the preventive services, medical care and oral and mental health benefits needed to succeed in life. We urge Congress to ensure that limits on benefits or high cost-sharing will not create barriers to care that children need for healthy development.

When children are healthy, they can grow and learn, and they are more likely to stay in school and focused on learning. There are no do-overs for childhood. We must get health reform right the first time by enacting legislation that improves coverage for all of North Carolina's children.

Barb Bradley is president and CEO of Action for Children North Carolina. Marian F. Earls, M.D., FAAP is president of the N.C. Pediatrics Society

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