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National Children's Health Insurance Summit

Opening Plenary, Chicago, IL - November 4, 2009

Thank you, Matt Beaudet for the welcome to Chicago.

Thank you, Cindy, for the introduction. You know Cindy’s commitment from her previous tour with HHS and the work she did in between tours on children’s coverage issues.

This morning I want to talk about our priorities for our children. Their health is at the top of our agenda. It’s a mission we’re reminded of at my department every day when we get to work.

The first thing we see when we come through the doors is a quote on the wall from Hubert Humphrey. It begins, “The moral test of a government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children.” And it’s as good a statement as any as to why investments in children matter—especially investments in their health.

We’ve made a huge investment in reforming the health insurance system. It’s critically important to American families.

  • As a result of skyrocketing health care costs and challenging economic times, Americans are finding stable sources of quality health insurance coverage harder and harder to find.
  • Fewer employers are offering health insurance coverage to workers and their families. Some employers may continue to offer health insurance but may discontinue dependent coverage—that accounts for 11% of the decline in employer-sponsored insurance.
  • If a family member changes jobs, works fewer hours, retires before Medicare coverage begins, or becomes sick, the coverage a family depends on can instantly disappear.

People in this country have been fighting for health reform since the Roosevelt Administration—the Teddy Roosevelt Administration—and right now, we’re closer to reforming health care than we’ve ever been.

We’ve already made real progress.

Our investment in health reform includes a huge investment in prevention and wellness, including $650 million in the Recovery Act to prevent chronic diseases like obesity.

Today, one in three American kids is overweight or obese. Being overweight increases a child’s chances of developing heart disease, asthma, and depression. Some of us can remember when they used to call type 2 diabetes adult-onset diabetes. Now they can’t use the name because so many kids are getting it.

But most importantly, the President took immediate action to help cover 11 million children across the country. As you know, signing the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act—CHIPRA—into law was one of President Obama’s first official acts.

CHIPRA enables states to offer health insurance to new groups of people who don’t have coverage and states are moving forward. Fourteen states have expanded income eligibility levels in their CHIP or Medicaid programs. Twelve states have begun to streamline their enrollment and renewal process. Seventeen states are providing coverage to children who are not citizens but who are lawfully residing in the US.

CHIP and Medicaid are making up for the lack of employer-based coverage for children. The Census Bureau says that between 2007 and 2008 the number of uninsured children declined by 800,000.

But we’re here today because there are still 5 million children who could—and should—be helped by Medicaid or CHIP, but they don’t have coverage.

These are kids like Marsha’s. Marsha is a bus driver. She’s worked hard. She’s employed, has raised three beautiful children, and volunteers her time to work with teenagers. But her employer’s health plan requires her to contribute nearly $200 a month toward her health care coverage. And an extra $95 a month to cover her kids. She simply can’t afford those costs; many of us can’t.

Marsha’s family is one of those that show why we need to act—to enroll all eligible children and to get health insurance reform enacted. These are families where the parents’ cannot afford the premiums or whose employers dropped their insurance coverage because of costs. They’re families who can’t get health insurance because a parent or a child has a preexisting condition. They are families living in a remote corner of rural America or on an Indian reservation.

And 5 million of them are already eligible for Medicaid or CHIP.

Finding and connecting these children with health coverage is a priority in CHIPRA.

One of the most overdue changes in the new law was new option for “express lane eligibility.” This simply means using income and eligibility data from other safety net programs to help determine eligibility for Medicaid and CHIP. It makes so much sense you wonder why the federal government never allowed states to do this before.

And CHIPRA provides substantial new resources—$100 million—to find and enroll children. Resources for outreach that we’ve never had had before. This includes $80 million for outreach, enrollment and program retention grants. It includes $10 million for Indian Tribes and health care providers that serve them.

As of September 30, much of the outreach grant money is already on the ground and working. The grantees are here today. I congratulate on your award and look forward to seeing the results of your efforts.

The group of new grantees includes Medicaid and CHIP agencies, city and county governments, community health centers, and community and faith-based organizations. Because CHIPRA makes a change from the way money usually flows, we’re still depending on states to reach out to people who are uninsured, but this time they don’t have to bear the entire burden.

Many of the grantees will target Hispanic families, who have among the lowest rates of health insurance. Others will work with immigrant and Native American children. Nearly a quarter of the grantees will target children in rural areas.

There’s one more pot of money I didn’t mention: $10 million for a national outreach campaign. This summit is the kick-off.

As part of the launch, my Department is also launching a new website — the first major update to the website in a decade.

The new site is a one-stop source for families and health professionals. It will sharpen the focus on “Connecting Kids to Coverage” through CHIP and Medicaid.

The site will have information in English and Spanish from the very general to the very specific—you can even go to the site and find a covered dentist in your community. It will post promising outreach and enrollment practices, and new federal guidance on Medicaid and CHIP.

The site is designed to get users to answers with as few clicks as possible. And it has social media tools such as Twitter and YouTube and widgets so users can share information with people they know.

This Children’s Health Insurance Summit is a cause for celebration.

We have a lot of talent here this morning. Every single one of the 69 grantees is at the summit this week. We have the key people from state and local governments. We have a “who’s who” of experts in children’s health policy research.

There’s new leadership in Washington that recognizes quality, affordable health care is a priority for every American.

And not since CHIP’s creation in 1997 has the federal government, in conjunction with states, concentrated so many resources on the effort to find and enroll children who are needlessly going without health insurance coverage.

But to whom much is given, much is required. As a society and as parents, there aren’t many greater obligations than to provide quality health care for our children.

So I want to give you a challenge: Find and enroll the 5 million children who are currently eligible for Medicaid or CHIP but are not yet covered. We can not only do this, we have no excuse not to. I can see the energy right here in this room.

Go forth and make sure these kids can get health care. It’s a solid step in the direction of ensuring every child has coverage—regardless of income—and a step in the direction of making sure their parents, and all Americans, have health coverage as well.

Thanks for coming and for everything you have done and will do.