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Insuring our Future 

In Louisiana, more than one in five people are uninsured. Certainly, life without health insurance is difficult for anyone. But for children, lack of insurance can have lifelong consequences.

Nearly two-thirds of Americans under age 65 have been covered by private employer-sponsored insurance, through their jobs or through the jobs of a spouse or parent. Yet private health insurance is covering fewer people. A September report from the U.S. Census Bureau found that, due to a decline in employment-based insurance, the number of uninsured Americans had risen by about 1.4 million in 2001, bringing the total to 41 million. Of course, rising unemployment rates mean more people without health insurance. But double-digit increases in health-care costs have also played a role by prompting some employers to drop health-care benefits or raise the amount contributed by workers.

What is the effect on kids? A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) survey found that the proportion of children covered by private health insurance dropped between 2001 and the first quarter of 2002, from 67.1 to 63.8 percent.

When the economy slumps, public insurance such as Medicaid often picks up some of the slack. In 1997, the U.S. Congress designed the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) to cover children in working families whose income was too high to qualify for Medicaid. The CDC found that between 2001 and 2002, the proportion of children covered through Medicaid and SCHIP rose from 23.4 percent to 27.7 percent. Had that growth not occurred, about two million more children would be uninsured.

Still, many children remain needlessly uninsured. The Urban Institute estimates that there are 8 million uninsured kids in the United States. Five million of those are eligible for SCHIP or Medicaid but are not insured. Here is where programs like Health Care For All come into play ("Chipping Away," Nov. 26).

Since 1999, "walkers and talkers" from Health Care For All have been going door to door in New Orleans' housing projects and surrounding working-poor residential areas. Their focus: enrolling residents in Medicaid and LaCHIP, Louisiana's version of SCHIP. Many of the residents are not aware that their children are eligible; some find the form too complicated or require assistance due to low literacy. During the first six months of this year alone, the program completed 509 applications for children.

The work of Health Care For All has been nationally recognized. The state of Louisiana has also been recognized for its outreach efforts with LaCHIP since it launched the program in 1998. Louisiana has most recently been commended for its work toward improving the program's renewal rates.

It's no wonder, then, that kids in New Orleans for the past year been enrolling in LaCHIP and Medicaid at a rate of nearly 45 kids a day. Just one year ago, there were 66,280 New Orleans children enrolled in the two programs; today there are 82,547.

The state estimates that between 100,000 and 150,000 Louisiana children still remain uninsured. More than 80 percent of uninsured children live in families where at least one person works. Continued "aggressive outreach" such as that done by Health Care For All is crucial, especially in this economic climate.

Louisiana, like many other states, is also considering insurance for parents. "We're paying for their care anyway," notes Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals secretary David Hood, explaining how the charity-hospital and private-hospital systems already pick up the tab for ill parents.

The Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured estimates that there are 10.6 million uninsured parents in the United States and that 7.4 million of those could be insured if coverage were expanded to include parents at the same income levels as children. Other states have already begun insuring parents, partly to benefit children. Clearly, healthy parents are better able to care for their children. Research also shows that a child with an insured parent is more likely to be enrolled in Medicaid/SCHIP and is more apt to receive regular health care.

True health care for all remains a distant goal, but Louisiana is on the right track. Further outreach is needed so our families get the coverage they need. In many cases, it's just a visit and a form away.

Landrieu for Senator
Voters statewide are making one more trip to the polls this Saturday, Dec. 7. Democratic incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu is facing Republican challenger Suzanne Terrell for a six-year term in the United States Senate; the Louisiana run-off election is the nation’s final major campaign for 2002. We are longtime supporters of Landrieu, an effective legislator who in the past six years has served her state well, and we enthusiastically endorse her re-election.

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