Leader Blues

Friday, November 28, 2008

TOP STORY > >Health care for children above national average

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

The dirty secret about the 66,000 Arkansas children without health insurance is that 90 percent of them live in a home where at least one parent works full time year-round.

Sen. Blanche Lincoln and others in Congress want to change that after the first of the year.

Left Behind, a study by Families USA using census data, revealed that 9.2 percent of Arkansas children lack health coverage compared to 11.2 percent of all children in the United States. Arkansas is 25th in the nation in terms of the percentage of children with healthcare coverage.

Other than age, income is the primary qualification for Arkids First, Arkansas’ version of the State Children’s Health Improvement Program. The federal poverty line is $21,200 for a family of four and to qualify for the program, a family must earn less than twice that amount.

Two-thirds of the children without health insurance qualify.

Both Houses of Congress passed an expanded version of the program in the last session and twice President Bush vetoed it. It is set to expire March 31.

“We have to deal with this quickly,” Lincoln recently said in a telephone interview. “(President-elect) Obama says it’s a big priority, early. The speaker (Nancy Pelosi) has echoed that.

“He wants to hit the pavement running,” she said. “We want to be prepared.”

Lincoln said the bill likely to be passed would extend and expand coverage. In Arkansas, another 22,400 children would be covered.

As for the expanded nature of the coverage, it would include “dental, mental and care for expectant mothers,” Lincoln said.

She said that children with good health care, including prenatal care, dental care and mental health care do better in school and have better life prospects.

“All parents want the peace of mind that comes with health care for their families. This is one of the best investments we can make.”

Rep. Mike Ross said health care is particularly difficult in these rougheconomic times. “Actions we do in October will avoid a 21st Century great depression,” Ross said.

“We are six months or a year-and-a-half from seeing the worst time,” he said. “We need to jumpstart the economy.”

He said he thought Arkansas could get $1 billion from the federal government as a share of the infrastructure stimulus package that President-elect Obama had promised.

Lincoln said the expanded SCHIP program is an important but incremental step. But that regarding a broader restructuring of the nation’s health-care system, she said she is optimistic.

Of Tom Daschle, Obama’s pick for secretary of Health and Human Services Department, Lincoln said, “He gets it. He understands…what the need is and more importantly, what we have to do to make that happen. We had eight bipartisian hearings last year and we’re ready to move ahead…to get better coverage at a lower cost.”

Lincoln said she wanted to make sure that small business has a place to go for reasonably priced plan.

“We did our homework last year,” she said.