For years, politicians in Washington debated legislation to expand health insurance coverage to more children through the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
For President Obama, no debate was necessary. After only a month in office, he signed legislation that will provide ongoing coverage for the more than 7 million children now insured through CHIP and extend coverage to an additional 4 million children who currently have no insurance.
It was a very significant step, but the president’s signature was only the beginning.Today, the Department of Health and Human Services and states across the country are doing the important work of enrolling and insuring more children. Gov. Corzine has already set the standard for efforts to cover more children and ensure they get the care they need.
These efforts are needed now more than ever. We know that children who don’t have insurance are much less likely than insured children to receive important preventive care, to have a regular doctor, or to get care when they need it.
Today, the economic downturn is hurting families in New Jersey and across the country. Nationwide, nine million Americans have lost employer-sponsored health insurance since December 2007. Others have lost not just their insurance, but also their jobs.
All too often losing a job means losing health coverage; for every 1 percent increase in unemployment, one million Americans lose their health insurance. As a result, many of their children go without basic medical care.
New Jersey did not wait to take action to help these children and their parents. Even before Washington acted, Corzine signed health reform legislation that required all children to have health insurance and established a working group charged with reaching out to and covering more children. This was a key step that laid the foundation for extending insurance to more children.
The president then signed the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act, which gives states $6 billion in additional funding for children’s health insurance.
For years, New Jersey’s Children’s Health Insurance Program was chronically underfunded. Under the new law, the state will receive a $286 million increase in this fiscal year alone.
The new law also gives states the tools to reach more families and give more children affordable, high-quality care. One of these tools is an important, common-sense provision called “Express Lane Eligibility” that will allow offices from across government to compare data and identify children who may be eligible to participate in the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
This provision will solve a problem that every American has dealt with. We have all been asked to fill out what seem like endless forms that ask for the same information over and over again. It’s easy to wonder if the left hand knows what the right hand is doing.
With Express Lane Eligibility, families will not be confronted with yet another stack of paperwork when they seek coverage for medical care for their children.
New Jersey is the first state to take advantage of this provision, and we are already seeing real results. Relying on state tax form information supplied by families, New Jersey has already identified hundreds of thousands of uninsured children across the state who are eligible for health insurance.
The state is aggressively reaching out to those families to ensure they know their children are eligible. It’s an impressive model that will help children throughout New Jersey, and it’s a model we hope more states will follow.
Using the tools like Express Lane Eligibility and the additional federal funds offered to states, we can keep our promise to those millions of children, and give them the quality, affordable care they need and deserve. We owe them nothing less.
Kathleen Sebelius is the Secretary of Health and Human Services. She previously was the governor of Kansas and the chair-amerita of the Democratic Governors Association.