Ten years ago, the idea of providing health care for all Washington state children regardless of ability to pay was just a dream. However, thanks to passage of the Apple Health for All Kids program in 2007, 840,000 children now have comprehensive coverage, including medical, dental, vision and mental health. The program is an unqualified and historic success, but it is now at risk.
Policymakers at the federal level in Congress are threatening to irreparably damage this innovative program and the children it protects. Apple Health, among other sources, leverages federal money from the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which Congress failed to re-authorize by its Sept. 30 deadline. The loss of that funding will jeopardize our ability to continue providing health coverage for all kids. We need to make sure they hear us loud and clear that children’s health coverage is not just a top priority, but also a basic necessity.
Our vision for Apple Health was to go beyond merely providing insurance, to include additional provisions that will help keep kids healthy. It works to ensure that children will be able to see a doctor, encourages high quality care through a medical home, invests in outreach to find and enroll eligible families, and supports nutrition and exercise in schools.
Our program has expanded coverage for both low-income and moderate-income families. Children with family incomes up to 312 percent of the federal poverty level, who don’t have access to another source of health insurance, are eligible to buy into coverage at rates they can afford. Families earning below 210 percent of the federal poverty level do not pay any premiums for coverage.
Both Apple Health for Kids and CHIP have enjoyed bipartisan support over the years. Regardless of party, people understand that keeping kids safe and healthy is not only the right thing to do, it also makes economic sense. But nothing can be taken for granted in national politics today. We must urge our federal policymakers to protect these important state and federal programs.
In order to do well in school, kids need to be healthy and ready to learn. Healthy children learn better, grow better and have a better chance of succeeding in life. It is a smart, humane and cost-effective investment to ensure the next generation is healthy. The costs of uninsured children far exceed the costs of providing insurance because children without health coverage eventually receive care from emergency rooms, where the cost of care is more expensive.
During the last decade, our state legislature has worked hard to protect the advances gained through Apple Health for Kids. Even in sessions when there were extreme pressures to make cuts to balance the budget, this priority has remained intact.
The current climate in D.C. could make this year’s federal budget process contentious. Congress shouldn’t play politics with our kids; reauthorizing CHIP should be a clear priority. Washington State’s children are counting on them.