Enrollment for the health insurance marketplaces created by the new healthcare law began just a few days ago. The news has reported various stories about successes and failures, quotes about hopes and fears, and predictions about deliverance and disaster. Wherever you stand on the law, and whether you call it the Affordable Care Act or "Obamacare," there should be something we can all agree on: It's a chance to cover uninsured kids who are already eligible for care.
The United States has covered millions of uninsured children since launching the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) in the mid-1990s. CHIP, a bipartisan initiative created by a Republican-controlled Congress and a Democratic president, was designed to help children get the care they need, when their hard-working parents earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but too little to keep pace with rising insurance costs.
And it's been a real success story. Working with Medicaid, CHIP has protected kids from becoming uninsured, even during a recession that cost millions of families employer-sponsored health care. With quality care their parents can afford, kids can focus on learning without the distractions and delays caused by health issues like hearing or vision problems. And manageable conditions like asthma and diabetes can be controlled, avoiding needless suffering. And this effective federal-state partnership has helped to blunt the rise of child poverty, at a time when medical expenses are a leading cause of personal bankruptcy.
Of course there is more work to do. More than 6 million children in America - approximately 102,000 (2012 Ohio Medicaid Assessment Survey) right here in Ohio - remain uninsured today. But the really alarming statistic is that two-thirds of uninsured children already qualify for Medicaid. The problem is some parents don't know their children qualify. Especially in the wake of a recession, some are newly eligible. But most just never heard about these opportunities to improve their children's health and their families' economic security.
That's where the new healthcare law comes in. Families will soon be hearing a lot of mixed messages about the availability, quality, and affordability of coverage and care through the new "exchange" marketplaces. And those are important conversations. But this high-profile public dialogue is also an opportunity to help thousands of Ohio's children and millions nationwide get the care they need to grow and thrive.
There is a role to play for all of us. If you have uninsured children, visit www.insurekidsnow.gov to learn if they qualify for Medicaid. If you know parents at work, from the PTA, at your place of worship, the YMCA, your neighborhood association or book club, or your kids' sports leagues, encourage them to spread the word.
Yes, there will be organized efforts to find and enroll eligible but uninsured kids. But similar organized efforts in the past have not reached all eligible children, and there is no substitute for good, old-fashioned, family-to-family, neighbor-to-neighbor, and friend-to-friend communications.
And yes, there is still plenty of room for debate over the new health care law. But again, most uninsured children are already eligible for Medicaid, and enrolling them has nothing to do with politics or ideology - it's just a question of information.
We all win when kids get the health care they need. Children avoid unnecessary absences and can focus on school, and parents can stay on the job instead of missing work to care for ailing kids. Families are economically stronger, because a childhood illness or playground mishap won't drive them deeper into debt. And when families become our state's consumers, savers, and workers are stronger, our whole economy benefits.
So let's make progress together. Let's spread the word and reach the children we haven't been able to reach before. Let's capitalize on this opportunity, and let's cover Ohio's uninsured children.
Oxley is CEO for Voices for Ohio's Children, Cleveland office. Voices for Ohio's Children advocates for public policy that improves the well-being of Ohio's children and their families by building nonpartisan collaborations among the private, public and not-for-profit sectors.