Covering the Uninsured: Realistic Proposal Puts Children First

Last week, a coalition of the most influential stakeholders in health care announced a new plan to extend health care coverage to approximately half of America’s uninsured population. Physicians groups, including the American Medical Association, joined health insurers, consumer groups, hospitals, and business groups to set aside their separate agendas and work together to cover the uninsured through the Health Coverage Coalition for the Uninsured (HCCU).

Today, nearly 47 million Americans, including more than 8 million children, are living without health coverage, and that number continues to grow. Uninsured patients live sicker and die younger than Americans with health coverage. The uninsured do not receive the preventive care they need, and often put off seeing the doctor until their health problem requires urgent care in an emergency setting.

America’s children are our future, and without proper health care, children are not given a fair chance to grow, learn, and succeed. That’s why the HCCU has made covering America’s children a priority, and focused phase one of our plan on making it easier for parents to enroll their children in government-run insurance programs like Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Plan (SCHIP). Six million uninsured children are eligible for government health care programs, but not currently enrolled. If these programs had full enrollment, the majority of uninsured children would be able to get the proper care they need.

Phase one of the coalition’s plan also includes a new tax credit for lower-income adults to cover some of the costs of health care for their children. The reauthorization of SCHIP, coming up this year, can serve as a vehicle to implement this plan, and extend health care coverage to the majority of America’s uninsured children.

The second phase of the HCCU plan would expand coverage to more adults by giving tax-credits, or vouchers, for the purchase of insurance to lower-income adults, falling between 100 and 300 percent of the federal poverty level. Under phase two, states would be given more flexibility to expand Medicaid programs to more lower-income adults, including all of those falling below the federal poverty level.

Many states are making notable efforts to cover the uninsured, but federal support is needed to fully implement many of these programs. State plans can serve as policy laboratories for needed reforms that can be implemented nationally to extend health care coverage to all Americans.

The HCCU plan is a realistic proposal that invests first in the health of our nation’s children. Our work sets the stage for legislators to similarly put aside their differences and work together to expand coverage to the uninsured. The AMA, and the other members of the Coalition, are committed to action, and we ask that Congress and the Administration share in that commitment.