By Tom Vitaglione
With each new year comes opportunity for change.
In 2007, North Carolina is faced with an opportunity to effect dramatic change on behalf of its children statewide. The time has come for attention to be given to the fact that the percentage of all children without health insurance in our state is increasing. Unless concentrated efforts are made—and made during the 2007 legislative session—the percentage of children without medical coverage will likely continue to increase.
In North Carolina, existing public insurance programs for children, namely Medicaid and Health Choice, have been resoundingly successful at providing more children with health insurance in a cost-effective manner. Before this partnership began, more than 16% of North Carolina’s children lacked health insurance. Through investments in expansions of Medicaid coverage, as well as the implementation of the nationally-recognized Health Choice for Children Program, the uninsured rate for children dropped to 10% in 2000. However, even with these significant public investments, our children’s uninsured rate had risen to almost 12% in 2005.
This is due to the fact that North Carolina has faced the second highest loss of employer-based dependent coverage in the country, with the loss of manufacturing jobs and other well-paying occupations that carry benefits. Since 2000, as compared to other states, North Carolina keeps falling in rank and now ranks 38th in the nation in terms of children’s coverage.
Thus, it is critical that North Carolina address this problem now, and as comprehensively as possible, by considering a major expansion of publicly-subsidized coverage for children.
This month, Illinois will implement a program aimed at making health insurance coverage accessible to almost all children in that state. Many other states are expected to make their own individual efforts to assure that more children are covered. The question for Tar Heel families is whether North Carolina policymakers will give expanded health insurance serious consideration in 2007.
Here’s why this effort is worth consideration:
Expansion is Attainable
The goal of making insurance coverage available to all children is attainable. The U.S. Census reports that only 264,000 children remain uninsured, and the majority of them are already eligible for Medicaid and Health Choice. Expanding access to care for children through insurance is a reasonable “first step” in the cause to improve health coverage for all North Carolinians.
Expansion is Affordable
Children are less costly to cover (about 30%-40% less than the cost of adults).
Expansion Improves Children’s Health and Enhances School Readiness
Assuring consistent, continuous preventive and primary care for children is a wise investment. Studies indicate that children with health insurance make better use of preventive care, have fewer and shorter hospital stays and miss fewer days of school due to illness. Enhanced health status, in turn, enhances school readiness and success. It also sets the stage for a healthier adulthood.
Expansion Benefits Employers
Savings could be produced for employers, including small businesses, in their efforts to provide employee and dependent coverage.
Expansion Promotes Family Security
Families want security for their children, and health care is near the top of their list.
Simply put: expanded coverage is a wise investment in the future of our state. Access to medical care through insurance is a critical component in assuring positive health outcomes for children. With a stronger insurance infrastructure in place, North Carolina children will not only be assured a greater chance of a healthier childhood and adolescence, but they will also be poised to learn, more likely to graduate and better prepared to contribute to society and to our state. Making health care for children a top priority in our state offers a long-lasting return on investment: a better quality of life for all North Carolinians.
Let’s not let this opportunity pass us by in North Carolina. In 2007, the time has come.
Tom Vitaglione is the Senior Fellow of Health and Safety at Action for Children North Carolina