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Speak Up for Health Coverage for Kids in the U.S.: Join the National Voice for Children

Resource type: News

Gara LaMarche |

I’m visiting Atlantic’s programmes in Viet Nam right now, and a few days ago a provincial health official proudly told a group of us that the Government recently made health care free for all of the nine million Vietnamese children under the age of six. As I prepared to write this column on children’s health coverage in America, it was jarring to realise that Viet Nam, a poor nation devastated by a misguided war waged by the U.S. a generation ago, seems more committed to protecting its most precious resource, children, than the one in which I live. And the situation in the U.S. may soon get worse.

Atlantic Currents LogoDefying common sense, President Bush has threatened to block the renewal of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), a ten-year-old government-funded health care coverage programme for working families with modest incomes. SCHIP has provided six million American children with doctor visits, treatments for asthma and diabetes, and life-saving surgeries and chemotherapies for childhood cancers and HIV/AIDS. While the number of Americans without health insurance shot up during the past decade, SCHIP reduced the number of uninsured children by nearly 25 per cent over the same period of time, resulting in the largest expansion of health care coverage for any population in the U.S. since the 1960s.

Given SCHIP’s record of accomplishment, the President’s vow to block or “veto” this sensible programme is astonishing as a matter of morals and politics. At a time when Americans are deeply divided on many issues and leaders of both political parties agree on very little, huge majorities of Americans of every point of view, including conservative Republicans, support SCHIP. Moreover, substantial majorities want SCHIP to cover even more uninsured children, including those children in families with at least one working parent, who do not earn enough to buy private health insurance, yet who are not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid, another government health programme, and therefore are left uninsured.

President Bush’s threat to block the renewal of SCHIP is no joke. Indeed, we face a dead-serious deadline: the programme will cease to exist on September 30 unless the President and both houses of Congress agree to extend or renew it. Each house wants to expand the programme – the House of Representatives more generously than the Senate – but the President’s own very modest proposal would likely reduce the number of children covered by SCHIP. The Bush administration has said that if the President does not get his way, he will veto a more generous bill, and it appears at this writing that Congress may not have the votes to override his veto.

With the September 30 deadline looming, thousands of organisations are campaigning to make sure that SCHIP is reauthorised and will cover even more of the nine million uninsured children in the U.S.

Among them are an increasingly diverse number of groups working together to represent the interests of America’s children. They are speaking up, with support from The Atlantic Philanthropies and other foundations, and we at Atlantic are honored to play a role in this critical fight.

At Atlantic, we believe that all children and young people have a right to high-quality, age-appropriate, comprehensive health care coverage, including reproductive health care. We are committed to supporting a “national voice for children” in the U.S. that calls for increased funding, quality services, and access for children disadvantaged by economic circumstances. In the same spirit, we encourage you to make common cause with one of the organisations we support or another organisation speaking out loudly and clearly for the reauthorisation of SCHIP. For more information about opportunities for advocacy, or resources you may find useful, we invite you to visit the Web sites listed below of the Atlantic-supported groups below.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), a respected budget research and analysis organisation, provides information and analysis that are invaluable for any advocacy effort on behalf of SCHIP. CBPP is working closely with The Center for Children and Families at Georgetown University to analyse legislation, generate media coverage, and support SCHIP reauthorisation coalitions.

Center for Community Change, dedicated to lifting up community voices, is bringing people from communities across the U.S. to Washington, DC to testify about the value of SCHIP, and is planning for outreach and implementation of SCHIP at the local level.

Children’s Defense Fund, led by veteran activist Marian Wright Edelman, is running smart SCHIP reauthorisation ads on TV and supporting coalitions of inter-faith and local leaders in a number of states.

Every Child Matters, a national nonprofit organization devoted to improving the lives of children and families by advocating for better public policy during federal and state campaigns.

First Focus, a bipartisan advocacy organisation within the America’s Promise Alliance network, is working to ensure that the federal budget meets the needs of the nation’s children by organising national and state coalitions featuring child advocates and nontraditional partners.

National Academy for State Health Policy, is giving state SCHIP directors a national voice in the reauthorisation debate. This organisation’s policy papers are invaluable to advocates for SCHIP.

The National Council of La Raza, a civil rights organisation representing the interests of Latinos in the U.S., is mobilising its constituents for SCHIP reauthorisation and the inclusion of coverage for legal immigrants and pregnant women.

Voices for America’s Children is working with its affiliates on the state and local levels, conducting legislative updates and teleconferences, making research available, and providing communications support.

I urge you to make your voice heard and to become part of the growing national voice for children and SCHIP. It’s one of the best ways to truly redeem the administration’s promise to “leave no child behind”. If Viet Nam can cover its kids, the U.S. certainly can.

Gara LaMarche