VERMONT - MAY 29 - Senator Bernie Sanders - joined by the leader of the Children's Defense Fund Marian Wright Edelman - announced that he will introduce legislation to provide all children in the United States access to health care, including some 9 million children who are currently uninsured. "Vermont should be very proud that we are a leader in providing health care for children, but I want to take what Vermont has done and show the whole country that it is the right thing to do," Sanders said.
"How we take care of our children speaks to our very values as a society," said Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia, who earlier introduced a companion bill (HR 1688) in the House. "Without health insurance, children and families suffer emotionally, physically, mentally and financially. We have the resources to pass the All Healthy Children Act, and with the help of my colleagues in the House and Senate all children will have health care coverage by next year," Scott said.
Children's Defense Fund President Marian Wright Edelman said, "We know of at least three children who died this February and March from denied, delayed and inadequate dental and medical care. This should not happen in the United States of America. I applaud Senator Sanders for having the vision to make health and mental health care a reality for all children in America."
Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program have made progress over the past decade in improving children's health insurance.
Vermont has been a national leader in providing health care for children, but around the country chronic budget shortfalls, confusing enrollment processes, and dramatic variation in eligibility and coverage from state to state have prevented millions of eligible children from leading healthy lives and realizing their full potential in school and life.
The legislation Sanders will introduce when the Senate reconvenes next week would simplify and consolidate children's health coverage under a single program that guarantees all children all medically necessary services. In addition, the legislation:
- Expands eligibility to all children with family incomes at or below 300 percent of the federal poverty level ($61,950 for a family of four.)
- Guarantees coverage to children regardless of their state of residence.
- Eliminates barriers to enrollment; applications for health care coverage would be short and simple to complete; and all states would adopt presumptive eligibility for children and pregnant women.
- Increases provider rates to make sure that children have access to needed health care professionals.
- Provides coverage to pregnant women with incomes at or below 300 percent of the federal poverty level. Pregnant women are eligible for all medically necessary health and mental health services until at least 60 days after the birth of a child.
"As many Vermonters know, Marian Wight Edelman has been at the forefront of the struggle for children's rights for decades," Sanders said at the outset of a Burlington press conference that she joined by teleconference from Washington, D.C.
"There is a widespread perception in this state and in this country that America is moving in the wrong direction and that our national priorities are distorted. In other words, what most Americans perceive is that we are spending money in areas that we should NOT be spending, and are not investing in those areas that we SHOULD be investing," Sanders said.
"In my view, the clearest example of our distorted priorities is the way in which we treat our children. Frankly, I am a little bit tired of hearing people in Washington talk about "family values" and "moral values" when we continue to have, by far, the highest rate of childhood poverty in the industrialized world. There are countries in Europe where the rate of childhood poverty is less that 5 percent. In our country it is close to 20 percent.
"In 2005, almost 13 million children under 18 were poor and the number of children living in extreme poverty rose by 87,000 from 2004 to 2005 - in other words a bad situation is becoming worse.
"In 2005, an estimated 33 percent of the homeless population was children and an estimated 1.3 million kids in this country will experience homelessness this year.
"The surgeon general has reported that tooth decay has become the single most common chronic childhood disease - five times more common than asthma. Tooth decay among children in America - and we don't have enough dentists where we need them to treat children whose teeth are rotting in their mouths. What is wrong with that picture?
"In Vermont and across this country, quality childcare for our kids is largely unaffordable. While psychologists agree that the first few years of a child's life is extremely significant in shaping their intellectual and emotional well being, millions of working families in this country are not able to find the childcare they need at a cost they can afford In most states, in fact, childcare is more expensive than a four-year public university.
"Meanwhile, while we neglect our children, we seem to have hundreds of billions available for tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires; we spend tens of billions on weapons systems that were designed to fight the Cold War and not terrorism, and we are spending $8 billion a month for Iraq.
"Today, along with Marion Wright Edelman, I want to focus on one area of childhood neglect which must be addressed immediately, and that is the national disgrace of some 9 million children in our country lacking health insurance. To my mind, as most Vermonters know, I believe that our country must move to a national health care system guaranteeing health care for all, but the least that we can do now is to make sure that all of our kids are covered so that no mother, no father, hesitates for one second to take their kids to the doctor or hospital when that necessity arises.
"Next week, when the Senate reconvenes, I will be introducing the All Healthy Children Act. This legislation will insure comprehensive health care insurance for every boy and girl under 18 in America.
"The good news is that we in Vermont should be very proud of what we have accomplished in terms of providing health care access to our kids through the Dr. Dinosaur program. Dr. Dinosaur is far from perfect, but it has gone a long way in providing quality care to the children of our state, and makes us one for the leaders in the country in this area.
"Unfortunately, the situation throughout the rest of the country is very different. Today, there are 9 million uninsured children in America. Ninety percent live in a household in which an adult is working but still lacks health insurance for his or her child, and, believe it or not, over half of these uninsured children live in a household in which both parents are working.
"At a time when many children in this country are in need of mental health services or counseling, this legislation covers mental health costs, as well as full medical coverage for all pregnant women.
"This legislation will go a long way in picking up problems that young children have, problems which today are not being diagnosed or addressed, and will end up costing us a lot more in terms of dollars and suffering because we lack this early detection and intervention."
To read more about the All Healthy Children Act at the Children's Defense Fund web page, click here: http://www.childrensdefense.org/site/PageServer