March 15, 2010

Big gap in MaineCare coverage for kids

— With the presidential campaigns in full swing, many issues are coming up for debate: the economy, the Iraq war, the housing markets and taxes.

One issue that should not cause any dispute, though, is the right for children to have access to health care.

When children are insured, they are more likely to receive the health care they need.

They can receive immunizations to prevent many devastating diseases. Doctors are able to perform early screenings for developmental and medical problems. Regular checkups also enable doctors to educate parents about healthy behaviors for their families.

Families who have children with chronic conditions, such as asthma, are able to keep these conditions under control when they have the right medications and regular check-ups.

Children end up having less serious illnesses and therefore miss fewer days of school. And parents can better manage their children's health before an emergency forces them to go to the hospital.

Health insurance for children benefits more than the family; it also benefits the community at large. Regular, preventive health care for children has been proven to decrease emergency room visits, hospitalization, and more expensive procedures for chronic conditions. Regular visits with doctors assist families in building healthy behaviors which can help counter growing epidemics such as obesity and tobacco use.

Immunizations, while they are important to each child and family, also have important public health benefits. They can prevent serious childhood diseases, such as the measles outbreak Maine had last year.

The savings from insuring our children far outweighs the costs. In fact, vaccines save $14 in medical costs for every $1 in immunization costs.

When children are insured, hospitals do not have to provide uncompensated ''charity care'' that drives up costs for all. Even more important, we all save by not having to treat expensive chronic conditions caused by a lifetime of obesity or smoking.

In troubled economic times, it is even more important to focus on health care for children. Many working families no longer have access to employer paid health insurance, and yet do not earn enough to buy insurance on their own.

Fortunately, families have help. In Maine, many working families can qualify for MaineCare thanks to the addition of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.

Through SCHIP, we have been able to expand traditional MaineCare to cover families making up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level ($42,400 for a family of four). This program has enrolled 14,800 children.

However, there are another 11,000 children who are eligible but haven't been enrolled. That's 56 percent of all uninsured children in Maine.

The Maine Children's Alliance has recently kicked off a ''Back to School'' campaign in an effort to reach the parents of all those children who are eligible for MaineCare. As part of the campaign, KeyBank will be offering sign-up forms for MaineCare in each of its 62 branches around the state. It is our hope that this will make it easier for families in need to sign up for this valuable program.

As our country works to find a national policy that will help all parents afford health care for their children, it is comforting to know Maine already has a plan in place.

MaineCare, with the help of SCHIP, helps working families afford health insurance without compromising the care we have all come to expect.

When children receive the health care they need, they are able to focus on learning, growing, and ultimately becoming happy, healthy, and productive adults. And that is something we can all agree is good for our country.

— Special to the Press HeraldThe Maine Children's Alliance has recently kicked off a 'Back to School' campaign in an effort to reach the parents of all those children who are eligible for MaineCare. As part of the campaign, KeyBank will be offering sign-up forms for MaineCare in each of its 62 branches around the state.

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