Imagine if every child in York and Adams counties -- more than 124,000 kids in all -- lacked health insurance. Wouldn't that be cause for concern across this region?
The fact is, the number of uninsured Pennsylvania children is an even higher number -- nearly 148,000 kids -- but they are spread across the commonwealth rather than concentrated in any one area. (For the record, York and Adams counties are home to more than 5,000 of those uninsured kids.)
Regardless of where they live, it's troubling that so many Pennsylvania children lack health insurance and the access to preventive care such insurance helps provide.
You know what's even more troubling? None of these children has to be uninsured. Every one of them has an affordable option for health insurance, whether through private insurance, Medicaid or Pennsylvania's Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). The reasons these 148,000 children lack health insurance could be as varied as the kids themselves, but the fact remains, none of them has to be uninsured.
Pennsylvania's status as a state of universal health care coverage for children didn't come about because of the federal Affordable Care Act (though that law did make some beneficial health care changes for children and families). It came about through the bipartisan efforts of the Pennsylvania General Assembly and governors from both parties over the past two decades.
Pennsylvania started one of the nation's first CHIP programs in 1992 and built upon its success with the 2006 enactment of Cover All Kids, which expanded CHIP by providing coverage for all documented children in the commonwealth. These changes happened because public officials on both sides of the aisle understood the benefits of getting kids insured -- benefits that have a positive ripple effect on nearly every facet of our commonwealth.
When every child has health insurance that enables them to access to quality physical and behavioral health care, everyone benefits. Healthy children have better school attendance and academic performance, their working parents are less likely to miss work to care for a sick child, and their parents' employers benefit from more productive, focused employees.
And keeping children healthy is not just about vaccinations and routine physicals. It also involves detection and treatment of behavioral health issues such as anxiety, depression, or autism. When children's physical or behavioral health issues are spotted early, proper treatment is often less complicated and less costly. It becomes easier to keep children healthy, in school, and on track to success. In the long run, that benefits all of us as taxpayers.
So how do we reach those 148,000 uninsured children? Thankfully, we've seen positive developments on the state and federal levels to get more kids insured.
The current state budget includes about $1 million that is being used to spread the word about CHIP and help parents sign up their children for the program. The budget also has about $7.5 million to cover about 9,300 additional children who are expected to enroll in CHIP because of those outreach efforts. And Gov. Tom Corbett signed legislation last fall that eliminated a waiting period that was considered to be a needless obstacle to CHIP enrollment.
On the federal front, the Affordable Care Act has some direct benefits to kids, including a prohibition of lifetime limits on health care coverage and a provision that bars insurance companies from denying coverage to kids with pre-existing conditions. And the ACA's overall goal of insuring more adults -- many of whom are parents -- can help insure more kids in Pennsylvania.
The Georgetown Center for Children and Families estimates there are about 274,000 uninsured Pennsylvania parents -- and roughly half of those uninsured parents would gain coverage if Pennsylvania were to expand Medicaid under the ACA or pursue Gov. Corbett's alternative proposal to use Medicaid dollars to let low-income adults purchase insurance on the private market. Either way, research shows that parents who are insured are more likely to make sure their kids have coverage, too, so efforts to cover more adults can help us reduce the number of uninsured children.
If you or someone you know has an uninsured child, you can find information on obtaining coverage by visiting the commonwealth's COMPASS website at www.compass.state.pa.us.
As we move into a new year, let's resolve to keep working together toward getting health care coverage for those 148,000 uninsured Pennsylvania children. They might not all live in your community, but keeping Pennsylvania's kids insured and healthy benefits all of us.
-- Joan Benso is the president and CEO of Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children, a statewide nonprofit, non-partisan child advocacy organization committed to improving the education, health and well-being of children and youth in the commonwealth.