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Ted Lempert and Jim Keddy: Legislature must fund children’s health care

The Legislature has an opportunity to improve children’s health through this
year’s state budget. The governor has proposed $23 million for local
communities that already have made the choice to cover all kids but are
running out of money. Providing stop-gap funding for these existing,
effective children’s health programs makes strong fiscal sense for
California; the well-known downstream costs associated with uninsured
children are much higher than investing in preventive care early on.

The $23 million is earmarked specifically for what are known as “Healthy
Kids” programs. These programs are local children’s health initiatives that
combine public and private funding to cover more kids and deliver other
economic benefits to the state. For example, for every new child covered by
the flagship Santa Clara Healthy Kids plan, the program also enrolls roughly
one additional child in a state-run insurance program. This benefits the
state economically because the federal government provides up to $2 in
matching funds for every dollar California invests in these state programs.

That level of guaranteed matching is–at least in our experience–unheard of
in the private sector, topping even the most generous employer-sponsored
401(k) programs.

Already, many additional counties have determined that it’s a smart
investment to provide health insurance to all their children through Healthy
Kids programs, including: Alameda, Fresno, Kern, Los Angeles, Napa,
Riverside, San Bernardino, San Francisco, San Joaquin, San Luis Obispo, San
Mateo, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, Solano, Sonoma, Tulare, and Yolo. Another
15 counties are in the process of launching new Healthy Kids programs.

Through Healthy Kids program in these counties, children in families that
make less than $49,800 annually (for a family of three) qualify for
subsidized health insurance regardless of immigration status. This diverse
group of communities knows first-hand that providing health insurance to all
of their children is the right decision; it’s the fiscally-responsible
choice, and it reflects the community’s belief that all children deserve a
chance to thrive.

These counties realize that a program for insuring all kids means that they
can deliver more cost-effective health care and get more bang for the buck.
In other counties, uninsured children must access health care in its most
expensive form: through publicly-supported emergency rooms. Counties with
Healthy Kids programs also have found that the simple message–“We can help
insure all kids”–is the best way to get families to bring uninsured kids in
for coverage. These local efforts have been so successful that most now have
kids on waiting lists for coverage, a problem that the $23 million
investment would help resolve.

What’s more, roughly 80 percent of California voters agree that all children
in the state should have access to affordable health insurance, providing
strong support for the state budget’s inclusion of the $23 million in
funding for children’s health coverage. That’s as close as we’ve come to a
consensus in this state, and this nearly-unanimous public support should not
be surprising given the clear rationale for insuring the health of all of
our children.

About 800,000 children in California do not have basic health insurance
today. It is important to note that the additional $23 million in funding
would cover just a small portion of these children for a period of one year.

So, it’s not the long-term solution. But it’s a good step in the right
direction. In November, California voters will have the chance to provide a
long-term health-insurance solution to all remaining uninsured children in
the state by passing the Tobacco Tax Initiative of 2006.

We urge the Legislature to include the $23 million in funding for Healthy
Kids programs in the final budget. This is the common-sense decision and the
will of the people, both facts that should not be obscured by partisan
politicking.

The 100% Campaign, a collaborative effort of Children Now, Children’s
Defense Fund and The Children’s Partnership, with primary funding from The
California Endowment, was created to ensure that all of California’s
children obtain the health insurance they need to grow up strong and
healthy. www.100percentcampaign.org.

The PICO California Project is the united effort of 20 California
congregation-community organizations affiliated with the PICO National
Network. Collectively, we represent 350 congregations and 400,000 families
statewide and are actively organizing in over 70 cities in Northern and
Southern California: www.picocalifornia.org.

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