SCHIP Will Continue To Be A Remedy For Uninsured Children

BY: FRANK PALLONE JR.

In his March 15 commentary in the Asbury Park Press, John O’Shea of the Center for Policy Research of New Jersey wrote that the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) is the wrong remedy for improving kids’ health. To borrow from the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, my response to O’Shea is, “you are entitled to your opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts.”

As the principle author of the bill that was recently signed into law renewing SCHIP, I am familiar with how this program works. Here are the real facts. Since it was enacted, SCHIP has been a resounding success. Between 1997 and 2007, 7 million children were covered by SCHIP and millions more gained coverage through Medicaid. As a result, the uninsured rate among children, especially low-income children, dropped from 23 percent in 1997 to 15 percent in 2006. That’s progress.
In spite of these achievements, SCHIP needed to be strengthened. Numerous states, including New Jersey, were running out of the money they needed to keep their programs running. This wasn’t because states were reckless spenders. The program never had enough money to begin with. Even if you didn’t enroll a single additional child, the cost of simply maintaining the program would continue to increase because of increases in health care costs.

But the goal of SCHIP is not to discourage states from enrolling uninsured children. We want to provide health coverage to as many uninsured children as possible. O’Shea rightly pointed out in his column is that far too many children who are eligible for SCHIP and Medicaid are not enrolled. In order to address these problems, the bill President Barack Obama signed into law last month will provide states with the stable funding levels they need to maintain and expand their programs.

In addition, the new law will give states new tools needed to help them find, enroll and retain eligible children. Experts predict 11 million American children will now have access to health coverage. And despite O’Shea’s claims that children enrolled in Medicaid and SCHIP have to go to the emergency room for primary care, state and national studies have consistently shown children enrolled in these programs have access to primary care at levels similar to children enrolled in private insurance, and well above the levels for uninsured children.
SCHIP has been, and will continue to be, a remedy for our nation’s uninsured children. One thing that doesn’t work is throwing these kids to the mercy of the private insurance market. Programs like this already exist and have largely been a failure.

Premium assistance programs, as they are known, provide financial assistance for people to purchase insurance policies within the private market. More often than not, it has been proven that it is more cost-effective to simply provide coverage through SCHIP or Medicaid than through private insurance policies. Medicaid and SCHIP serve a vulnerable population that suffers from unique health needs, which private insurance policies often fail to provide coverage for.

As Congress begins its deliberations on reforming our health care system, SCHIP can largely serve as a model for how to move forward. But ideologues who cling to worn out mantras that government programs don’t work will persist. Fortunately, the facts tell us otherwise.

Frank Pallone Jr. is a member of United States House of Representatives, where he represents New Jersey’s 6th district.

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