Ky. Voices: Health law a chance to get already-eligible children insured

October 1, 2013 

Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates.

PHOTO BY MARK CORNELISON | STAFF — 2006 Lexington Herald-Leader file photo Buy Photo

Enrollment for Kentucky's health insurance marketplace, Kynect.ky.gov, begins today. That means the news will soon be full of 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, or KCHIP in Kentucky) in the mid-1990s. The 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, KCHIP has protected kids from becoming uninsured, even during a recession that cost millions of families their 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 — 56,000 right here in Kentucky — remain uninsured today.

But the really alarming fact is that many uninsured children already qualify for Medicaid or KCHIP. The problem is that their parents often don't know about the programs, or don't know their children qualify. Especially in the wake of a recession, some are newly eligible.

Kentucky leaders have a history of stepping up to support children's health coverage. Gov. Steve Beshear stepped up in 2009 with a broad outreach effort to get eligible children enrolled in KCHIP, and those efforts have paid off. The Cabinet for Health and Family Services also recently announced that children will no longer have to go without health coverage for six months when they are moving from private to public coverage, which will reduce gaps in coverage for kids.

But the truth is that some parents have yet to hear about these opportunities to improve their children's health and their families' economic security.

That's where the new health-care law comes in. Families will soon be hearing a lot of mixed messages about the availability, quality and affordability of coverage and care through kynect.

And those are important conversations. But this high-profile public dialogue is also an opportunity to help thousands of Kentucky 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, call 1-855-4kynect (459-6328) or visit kynect.ky.gov starting Oct. 1 to learn if they qualify for KCHIP or 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 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 KCHIP or 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 jobs 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 Kentucky families 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 Kentucky's uninsured children.

Terry Brooks is executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates.

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