Where are the children in Jefferson City?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

At a time when most of us are thankful for what we have around us -- good friends, neighbors, a job, family, health coverage -- I find it increasingly difficult to be so thankful for another legislative session of political wrangling, posturing and very little progress to bettering the lives of the children in this great state.

In January, our newly elected governor, Jay Nixon, spoke about the importance of the State Children's Health Insurance Program. He identified that there are nearly 150,000 children in our state who don't have health coverage, and that is too many.

What is really a shame is that nearly two-thirds of those children, almost 100,000 of them, are eligible for the program but just not enrolled. In a time of fiscal shortfalls and cuts in vital programs for our children, many in our state legislature have turned their backs on these 100,000 children.

If the Missouri Legislature would have chosen to fully fund the State Children's Health Insurance Program, the state would have received almost $3 for every $1 they put into insuring children. We could have insured many of those uninsured children who are eligible for the program, with out expansion.

If you or I went to the grocery store and we received $3 for every $1 we spent on groceries, do you think we would do it? By not using these funds we do not help our state. Instead, the federal funds not used in Missouri get used in Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey.

Just recently an article came out highlighting a plan to identify and enroll 350,000 uninsured children in New Jersey. I wonder how many of those children are receiving Missouri's money?

State Rep. Bob Nance of Excelsior Springs is one of the few lawmakers who have introduced legislation addressing the outreach and enrollment efforts (House Bill 293). His bill is a first step toward more "express lane" eligibility, but it is only one step in the right direction.

In Missouri, one step in the right direction soon leads to a giant leap back. Recently I read the House passed a measure to strengthen the ability for college students to carry concealed weapons on campus; the measure is opposed by most of the college presidents.

What has happened to commonsense legislation?

F. Scott Gee of St. Louis is executive director of Citizens for Missouri's Children.

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