News Articles

9 million uninsured children: coalition calls for action

WASHINGTON (BP)—-Providing 9 million uninsured children access to quality healthcare should be a top priority for the country’s government officials, Southern Baptist ethics specialist Richard Land and a variety of other religious leaders say.

Speaking on behalf of an interfaith coalition, the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission called for federal government attention to the problem during a Washington news conference.

The religious leaders called for government action as Congress considers reauthorization of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) following its first 10 years. Land and the other religious leaders did not endorse a particular approach to addressing the issue, however.

The number of children without health coverage is “a major problem that is unacceptable in a nation of our wealth and our ability to address the problem,” Land said. He called for a “basic threshold of equal opportunity” to gain “comparable healthcare.”

“That doesn’t mean we can ensure the same healthcare for everyone,” Land said, adding there should be, however, a “threshold below which no child in America should be allowed to fall, and, unfortunately, 9 million or more are below that threshold now.”

Land’s comments came at a March 6 news conference featuring the National Interfaith Advisory Board for Cover the Uninsured. Other speakers at the news conference included representatives of the National Council of Churches, Church of God in Christ, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and Islamic Society of North America.

Eileen Lindner, the NCC’s deputy general secretary and chair of the interfaith board, said it is “a moral imperative that all our children obtain healthcare coverage,” but she added finding a solution would require “rigorous debate.”

“We don’t all agree on a remedy,” Lindner said.

If conservatives, liberals, Protestants, Catholics, Jews and Muslims “bring their best ideas to the table, we will end up in the end, if we listen to each other and we work together, with better solutions than we would otherwise,” Land said.

Speakers at the news conference said both Democratic and Republican governors support reauthorization of SCHIP, which provides federal funds to states to cover children in families ineligible for Medicaid but unable to afford private insurance. First authorized in 1997, SCHIP has provided $40 billion over the last 10 years, reducing the number of uninsured children by 2 million during that time.

President Bush’s newly proposed budget would increase funds for SCHIP but decrease the number of children covered, according to Families USA, a consumer advocacy organization. In addition to a base of $5 billion a year for the program, the president proposed $5 billion total over the next five years.

That is not enough to maintain the current enrollment of 6 million children covered by SCHIP, according to Families USA. It estimated that a five-year total of $13 to $15 billion over the $5 billion annual allotment will be needed to cover the children already in the program.

Of the 9 million children without health insurance, about 6 million are eligible for SCHIP or Medicaid, according to Families USA. To cover the current SCHIP enrollees and “make a dent” in the 6 million eligible but uninsured children would require about $60 billion over the next five years in addition to the $5 billion annual sum, a Families USA official said.

Cover the Uninsured is a campaign to build support for providing coverage of uninsured Americans. The annual Covered the Uninsured Week is April 23-29 this year.