One sure-fire way to score political points is to create big ideas designed to help children lead healthier lives. Sometimes, however, these well-intentioned efforts fall far short of expectations.
As reporter Kristen Hallam wrote in a Sept. 27 cover story, Congress this year is considering 32 bills that deal with wide-ranging issues in children's healthcare.
This legislative onslaught comes two years after President Clinton signed into law the widely heralded Children's Health Insurance Program. Congress set aside $40 billion in federal funds over 10 years for the program, which targets children whose families are too poor to buy health insurance but don't qualify for Medicaid.
Yet, the results of that ambitious effort have been disappointing, with slightly more than 1 million children enrolled in the program. An estimated 11.1 million kids remain uninsured, and more than half of those are believed eligible for Medicaid or CHIP benefits.
Furthermore, in the 12 states with the most uninsured children, fewer kids had health coverage through CHIP and Medicaid in 1999 than those insured in government programs in 1996, one year before CHIP existed. Families USA, which issued the study, believes welfare reform triggered the dip by pushing many families off general assistance rolls and into the ranks of the working poor with no health coverage.
Despite the need to insure more children, the safety net is obviously not catching enough kids. The president plans to enlist schools to help in the CHIP sign-up effort, which makes sense. Hospitals also can play a major role in publicizing and coordinating CHIP registration.
But throwing money at the problem won't solve it, which is why we question the administration's plan to spend $9.5 million in research grants "to identify effective children's health insurance strategies."
Here are a couple of ideas that would be free. First, simplify and consolidate application procedures for CHIP and Medicaid. Second, before families move off welfare, enroll them in Medicaid or their children in CHIP. In the end, the goal of insuring all children will be met through education, hard work and persistence, not research grants.