Today more than ever, American families are finding that affordable health care coverage is simply out of reach. With health care premiums rising and employment-based plans reducing coverage, more hardworking Americans are becoming uninsured, leaving millions of children without access to the health care services they need. Resolving this is one of the most significant challenges of our time and reinforces my continued support for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) since its inception in 1997.
Currently, SCHIP covers more than 9 million children nationwide, bridging the gap for working families who cannot afford private insurance, but earn too much to qualify for Medicaid. This essential program has proven its worth over the years, impacting the lives of low and moderate-income families in Maine and across the country who need it most. That is why I am deeply concerned that federal funds budgeted for 2007 will create a shortfall of $6.5 million – leaving children in seventeen states, including Maine, uninsured next year.
This shortfall is simply unacceptable and must be addressed. The 2006 Kids Count Analysis reports that approximately 19,000 children in Maine are uninsured– furthering the immediacy of solving this problem. Last year, I championed the Keep Children Covered Act to cover the children currently enrolled in SCHIP and guarantee the funding for those who qualify, but remain un-enrolled. I also authored a letter signed by nineteen of my Senate colleagues pushing for the enactment of legislation that would cover the shortfall before the beginning of 2007.
Outside of Washington, Americans are offering limitless support to highlight the urgency of the SCHIP shortfall. Last week, medical professionals, law makers, and children’s advocates gathered at Maine Medical Center in Portland to discuss SCHIP and children’s health care funding. As this Congress moves forward, it is imperative that we understand the consequences of this funding shortfall – especially in Maine where more than 3,250 children will be in jeopardy.
While we work diligently to ensure children currently enrolled in SCHIP do not lose coverage – we must also provide additional funding to enroll more uninsured children. Some states choose not to participate in the SCHIP program because they cannot afford to take on the additional costs of covering more children. That is why I believe incentives to encourage states to increase outreach efforts and enroll more children into Medicaid and SCHIP would go a long way in covering a portion of the 9 million uninsured.
Furthermore, I believe the issue of children’s health care coverage also deeply resonates with parents, educators, and lawmakers who are concerned about children coming to school ready to learn. Without proper physical and mental health care during crucial developmental years, children are at risk of not reaching their full potential. It is imperative that families have the best resources to prepare their children for school, regardless of income.
Without question – the SCHIP program has made remarkable progress over the last ten years – reducing the number of low-income children without health insurance by one-fourth. We must take advantage of this golden opportunity to close the enrollment gap and help America’s children get the services they need to stay healthy. Throughout my last two terms in the Senate, I have seen firsthand the how Maine families have been changed by the SCHIP program and will do all that I can to ensure all of our children are covered for years to come.