- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 2, 2007

As governors, we made children’s health insurance a priority in our states. Congress must now do likewise by reauthorizing and expanding the successful State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). This important state-federal partnership was born of bipartisan cooperation 10 years ago and has delivered quality, cost-effective care to millions of children since then and improved the health of our nation’s youth.

When we served as governors of Mississippi and New Jersey, we made concerted efforts to improve the health of children and working families in our respective states. By expanding coverage in New Jersey and increasing enrollment in Mississippi, we helped thousands of our states’ youngest residents get the medical care they need. We know that when young people are healthy they are better students which, in turn, produce more capable citizens. Moreover, when families use preventive care, it saves the states and federal government much needed revenue in the long run.

States continue leading the way. Since January 2006, the District of Columbia and 29 states have acted or are acting to strengthen children’s coverage. By providing routine and preventive care for children, states can prevent minor and controllable health problems from becoming lifelong health burdens.

And this approach keeps kids in the classroom instead of the emergency room, allowing parents to stay on the job and taxpayers and businesses to avoid the costs of expensive ER care. As private insurance has become less available and more expensive, state leaders have stepped up their commitment to working across party lines to keep working families’ children from becoming uninsured.

State leaders on both sides of the aisle understand that covering children is sound, responsible public policy. They also recognize the political realities — polling confirms that more than 8 in 10 Americans favor expanding children’s coverage. Democratic governors like Wisconsin’s Jim Doyle and Pennsylvania’s Ed Rendell, and Republican governors like California’s Arnold Schwarzenegger and Connecticut’s Jodi Rell are but a few examples of bipartisan leadership on children’s coverage.

However, these bold state initiatives can’t succeed unless Congress matches the effort in the states with a strong SCHIP reauthorization bill that provides the full $50 billion of added funding. Congress must also provide states the options, tools and incentives to expand coverage and reach and retain eligible kids.

Now is the time for Congress to act. Delays could undermine state efforts and a SCHIP reauthorization bill that falls short of the mark could unravel them. States are close to finishing the job for our children, but they need strong partnership and swift action from Congress to succeed.

Ronnie Musgrove is a former Democratic governor of Mississippi and is now a lawyer and instructor at the University of Mississippi. Christine Todd Whitman is former Republican governor of New Jersey and former administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

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