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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

More kids enrolled means a healthier future

Erin Kelly

Staff Writer

There’s no question—the recession has made this a tough couple of years for American families. Kids have felt the economic impact too. A new study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation shows that the official child poverty rate, which is a conservative estimate of those living in economic hardship around the country, increased 18 percent from 2000 to 2009.

Luckily, Medicaid and its companion program, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), are there to help kids and their families. A new Urban Institute report on children’s enrollment in Medicaid and CHIP shows that these programs are working harder than ever to help kids get the health care they need. (CHIP was created specifically to help lower-income families who were caught between a rock and a hard place—making too much to qualify for Medicaid and too little to afford costly premiums in the private individual market.) According to the report, the number of eligible children enrolled in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) increased from 82.1 to 84.8 percent nationally in 2009.

Enrollment in these programs has increased in part because of efforts such as “Connecting Kids to Coverage Challenge,” a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) project designed to enroll 5 million eligible, but uninsured, children. Building on the success of that program, the HHS announced just last week that they would be awarding $40 million to 23 states to help find and enroll even more eligible children. The money will go towards using technology to increase enrollment, engaging schools and community health centers in outreach and enrollment, and retaining eligible children in this vital program for working families.

It’s economic times like these that underscore just how important programs like Medicaid and CHIP are. Without them, millions of children would not be able to get vaccines, go to the doctor when they get sick, and or nip potentially chronic health care problems in the bud. That’s why it is critical that these programs be protected from cuts during the deficit reduction deliberations that the Congressional super committee will undertake between now and the end of the year.

Medicaid and CHIP have done a lot to improve the health of America’s children, and efforts like those funded by HHS will help ensure that no child who is eligible for safety-net programs will go without access to quality, affordable health care. We need to keep working to make sure these programs continue to be there for our kids.