March 28, 1997 in Nation/World

Uninsured Children Get Lots Of Attention Congress, States Hopping On Bandwagon To Ensure Health Coverage For Millions

Associated Press

Extending health insurance for children is shaping up as the feel-good issue of this Congress, as a host of lawmakers present plans to aid nearly 10 million uninsured children.

The action isn’t just in Washington. At least half the states are considering plans to expand Medicaid or to build programs that help families buy private insurance.

“It will happen,” predicted Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.

One in three U.S. children had no insurance for at least one month in 1995 or 1996, according to census data analyzed by Families USA and released Thursday the latest in a series of reports on the issue.

By and large, these children live in working-class families, too poor to buy their own insurance but not poor enough for Medicaid. Nine out of 10 had working parents and two-thirds of them were in two-parent families, Families USA said.

“The people who fall through the cracks are the children in working families,” said Ron Pollack of the advocacy group.

In Utah, one of every four children - or 173,000 individuals - went without health insurance for at least one month during the past two years, according to the study. Despite that high number, Utah ranked eighth best among the states.

Overall, just 66 percent of children nationally were covered by private insurance in 1995, compared with 73.6 percent in 1989, chiefly because many companies are trimming insurance to cut costs.

Diane Camacho’s children are among them. She works for a five-person company in Deltona, Fla., that offers health care for workers but not their families. She is not nearly poor enough for Medicaid, but makes less than $22,000 a year and cannot afford insurance.

“Every night you pretty much go to bed thinking, ‘God, don’t let anything bad happen to the kids,”’ she said.

Two bad things happened to her 16-year-old son, Christopher - a bike accident and then a trampoline fall. Camacho borrowed money from friends to pay the $1,000 bike hospital bill. And she’s hoping a homeowner’s policy will pay the $10,000 for two surgeries after the second fall.

“If that doesn’t work, then I’ll be in debt for a really long time,” she said.

For her 14-year-old daughter, it was a choice between eyeglasses and treatment to remove bacterial warts on her hands. Camacho chose glasses.

“It’s like $65 per wart, which is like a big chunk of money,” she said. “Now she hides her thumbs.”

President Clinton, congressional leaders and state lawmakers aim to change that.

The intense focus is driven by Democrats’ effort to incrementally expand access to health insurance. After the defeat of Clinton’s 1993 health care plan, they moved to insure workers changing jobs.

Republicans don’t want to be left behind. Conservative Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, has teamed up with liberal Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., on a bill. Republican Sens. Phil Gramm of Texas and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania have plans.

And House Republicans, who haven’t shown much enthusiasm, have staff members studying the issue and plan a hearing.

While the idea is driven by Democrats, most plans have a conservative touch.

“What they’re not saying is let’s create a Medicare for children,” said conservative analyst Merrill Matthews of the National Center for Policy Analysis. “They’re saying how can we come up with some money to give to the states so they can extend health insurance to kids.”

© Copyright 1997 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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