Frumpfighter

Children’s Defense Fund leader fights for comprehensive health coverage

Posted on: April 18, 2009

Marian Wright Edelman has always been on a mission to prove doubters wrong. When she was growing up in the South in the ’40s and ’50s, everything around her said she wasn’t worthy as a black child, especially a black girl.

Marian Wright Edelman

Marian Wright Edelman

“But I didn’t believe it and my parents didn’t let me believe it,” she said Thursday at the Iowa Women’s Leadership Conference at the Coralville Marriott Hotel and Conference Center.

With her family’s support, she continued her education and graduated from Spelman College and Yale Law School. She was the first black woman admitted to the Mississippi Bar and directed the NAACP Legal Defense Fund office in Jackson, Miss.

Inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of equality for all, Edelman founded the Children’s Defense Fund in 1973. It has been her life’s goal to see all children are given a level playing field.

While the country has come a long way since the segregation of the ’50s and ’60s, there still too many children in poverty and uninsured.

Here are some facts provided by the Children’s Defense Fund’s Health Coverage for All Children Campaign:

  •  9 million children in America are uninsured. A child is born uninsured every 39 seconds.
  •  Currently, approximately two-thirds of the uninsured children are eligible for health coverage under Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) but are not enrolled; excessive enrollment barriers are often the cause.
  • In January 2009, Congress acted to expand CHIP and enroll more children in coverage. This legislation was necessary to prevent more children from losing health coverage in the economic downturn, but it still leaves 5 to 6 million children uninsured.
  • Children are subjected to the “lottery of geography” – whether they get coverage and what kind of benefits they may receive depends upon the state in which they leave.
  • Roughly 800,000 pregnant women are uninsured.
  • Approximately 28,000 children die each year in America before their first birthday – ranking the U.S. 25th among 30 industrialized countries.
  • Almost a quarter of 2-year-olds are not fully immunized.
  • The majority of uninsured children live in two-parent families:
  • Almost 90 percent have one parent who works.
  • Almost 90 percent are U.S. citizens.
  • Health insurance premiums for families have risen more than three times as fast as wages since 2001 at the same time that fewer employers are providing coverage for employees.

To reverse this trend, as well as the “cradle to prison pipeline” in our country, Edelman says every child and pregnant woman should be guaranteed comprehensive health and mental health coverage.

“It cost so much more to detain children than to provide mental health services,” she said. “America has the dubious distinction of being the world’s largest jailer. If we don’t think this has anything to do with us, we need to change our thinking.”

The country needs to invest money on prevention and early education to prevent money spent on incarceration, she said.

Edelman believes adults need to set an example for children, including instilling a sense of family, community and self.

“We don’t have a children problem, we have a profound adult problem,” she said.

Although poverty is a problem, “affluenza” is just as damaging to our youth, she said. “People have too much worth too little. Children learn from us.”

Edelman doesn’t comprehend how the government can’t support comprehensive health care, but can dish out $700 million to bail out failing banks. “We don’t have a money problem in this country, we have a values problem,” she said, prompting applause from those in the audience at the conference.  

Health care and prevention would be less expensive for taxpayers than treating a child in the welfare system. When poor children are hospitalized and possibly die from seemingly simple medical issues, such as a tooth abscess, the cost to taxpayers is about $250,000, she said.

She praises President Obama’s proposed budget which includes health care reform, early childhood development and tax credits for low-income families.

“This is the most sympathetic budget we’ve ever seen,” she said. “I don’t know what’s wrong with setting priorities.”

The reverse the facts and guarantee every child and pregnant woman has comprehensive health and mental health coverage, the Children’s Defense Fund believes any health care reform legislation must include these principles :

  • Coverage Must Be Affordable. Establish a national eligibility floor of 300 percent of the federal poverty level for all children and pregnant women, with an affordable buy-in based on a family’s income for those over that income level.
  • Benefits Must Be Comprehensive. Guarantee every child access to all medically necessary services to maximize a child’s health and development. 
  • The System Must Be Simple and Seamless. To ensure children get enrolled and stay enrolled, simplify the application and enrollment process to make it easy for all children to get covered and stay covered. This must include eliminating known barriers to enrollment and instituting automatic enrollment of eligible children.

For more information about the campaign, visit www.childrensdefense.org/healthychild

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