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Report Finds Many Children Without Insurance Group Mobilizing Others To Push Legislation To Ensure Health Coverage For All Children

Nearly one in seven children in the United States lacked health insurance in 1995, the Children’s Defense Fund reported Wednesday, warning that the nation needs to make expanding health coverage for children a top priority.

In its annual “State of America’s Children” report, the nonprofit group also found that in the District of Columbia, 18,654 children - or about one in six - had no insurance.

Marion Wright Edelman, the group’s president, said her organization plans to mobilize religious groups, other children’s organizations and women’s groups to push for legislation to address the problem.

Wednesday, Senate Democrats announced their initiatives to attack the issue. One bill would provide tax credits to help low-income families purchase private health insurance. Another would provide vouchers to make children’s coverage more affordable, as would a voucher bill sponsored by Republican Senator Arlen Specter, Pa.

More than 15 bills addressing children’s health coverage are expected to be introduced this session, according to James Weill, the Defense Fund’s general counsel.

The children’s advocacy group also announced it will hold a series of “Stand for Children” rallies around the country on June 1. On that date last year, hundreds of thousands gathered at the Lincoln Memorial to support the general goal of putting children first. The group also plans to host a “virtual” Stand for Children Day on the Internet.

Edelman said she was moved by President Clinton’s passion recently when he discussed the 10 million children in American who do not have health insurance, but was disappointed to hear his plan will cover only up to 5 million of them.

“I don’t know how I could say one 5 year old would get health care, and another 5 year old wouldn’t,” she said. “On what basis do you distinguish the life chances of one child over another?”

The report, which traditionally underscores child poverty and related social problems, also found that health-care availability varies greatly by state.

For example, new programs in Minnesota have reduced the percentage of uninsured children to 6 percent compared with New Mexico, where 24 percent of children lack coverage. Nationwide, though, nine out of 10 children lacking health care live in families in which at least one parent works.

The report found that while 16 percent of white children live below the poverty line, that figures rises to about 40 percent for black and Hispanic children. Nearly one-third of all black children receive welfare benefits, compared with 22 percent of Hispanic children and 9 percent of white children.

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