With so many issues facing us in a heated presidential campaign, including worries about the economy, the Iraq war, the housing markets and taxes, access to health care for children is one issue that’s at risk of being forgotten.
Many working families in Maine do not qualify for employer-paid health insurance, yet they do not make enough money to buy their own insurance. Fortunately, working families can qualify for MaineCare thanks to the addition of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).
Through SCHIP, we have been able to expand on traditional MaineCare to help provide health insurance for many working families who are still trying to make ends meet. Families making up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level ($42,400 for a family of four) are now eligible for MaineCare.
This program has enrolled 14,800 children. However, there are many more we can reach. At least 11,000 Maine children are eligible but not yet enrolled. That’s 56 percent of all our uninsured children.
The Maine Children’s Alliance has recently kicked off a “Back to School” campaign in an effort to reach all these children. 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.
Studies show that when children are insured, they are more apt to receive the health care they need, including important immunizations that prevent many devastating diseases. Insured children receive early screenings for developmental and medical problems and regular checkups and 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 through the use of the right medications and regular check-ups. Children end up having less serious illnesses and therefore miss fewer days of school. Best of all, parents are able to manage their children’s health and to avoid having something simple escalate and require an emergency trip to the hospital.
Health insurance for children benefits more than the immediate family; it also benefits the community at large. Families with health insurance are more likely to learn healthy habits, which help counter growing epidemics such as obesity and tobacco use.
Immunizations have important public health benefits and can prevent serious childhood diseases, such as the measles outbreak Maine had last year. In addition, the savings from insuring our children far outweigh the costs. 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. Even more important are the savings from not having to treat chronic conditions caused by a lifetime of obesity or smoking.
When our children receive the health care they need, they are more attentive in the classroom and are happier and healthier. Everyone benefits in the long run as each happy, healthy child becomes a happy, healthy and productive adult.
Elinor Goldberg is president of Maine Children’s Alliance. Richard Lucas is president of KeyBank N.A., Maine District.