- The Washington Times - Friday, August 11, 2006

In the nine years since Congress approved the government-funded State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) the percentage of U.S. children without health insurance has dropped 20 percent, even though the total number of uninsured Americans is rising, a new report shows.

The State of Kids’ Coverage report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) revealed that the number of uninsured children has declined by 2 million since SCHIP’s creation and the recent expansion of Medicaid coverage.

“The decline in the number of uninsured kids is a rare piece of good news for our nation’s health care system,” said Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and chief executive officer of RWJF, the nation’s largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to improving Americans’ health and health care.

The intent of SCHIP has been “to provide health insurance coverage when a family’s income is too high for Medicaid but not high enough for them to afford individual coverage,” Elaine Arkin, an RWJF spokeswoman, said yesterday.

Households that qualify for SCHIP typically have one parent employed outside the home. A family of four earning up to $40,000 would qualify, Ms. Arkin said in a telephone interview.

The program’s goal of encouraging states to add more children to their public health programs appears to have worked. At least 5 million youngsters ages 17 and under have been enrolled in public health programs such as SCHIP and Medicaid in the past nine years.

In contrast, during this same time period, there has been an increase of nearly 5 million in the total number of Americans without medical insurance, the analysis found. And while the enrollment of children in government-funded health insurance programs has grown by 31 percent since SCHIP started, the proportion of youngsters with private health insurance has fallen by 5 percent.

The RWJF report was prepared by analysts at the State Health Access Data Assistance Center at the University of Minnesota, using data from the Census Bureau and the National Center for Health Statistics.

Maryland and Alaska were the top two states in terms of increasing their percentages of children enrolled in public health insurance programs. Both saw 139 percent jumps.

Arkansas had a 60 percent drop in uninsured children, the largest decline of any state.

Ms. Arkin said SCHIP was authorized for 10 years, and reauthorization will be coming up next year. While this report shows the program’s benefits, she said she recognizes that on occasion the program “has been a struggle for states,” even though the legislation that created it allowed each state to design its own program.

The federal government contributed $4 billion annually to SCHIP in fiscal 2004 and 2005. It will provide $5 billion in the upcoming fiscal year.

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