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Campaign to urge universal children's health-care coverage gathers momentum


With an eye toward next year's scheduled reauthorization by Congress of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), a coalition of health and other organizations is gearing up a public campaign that includes a petition to build support for health insurance for all children.

The American Academy of Pediatrics joined with Families USA and others at a Washington, D.C., press conference in July to announce plans to keep the spotlight on the issue in coming months through the Campaign for Children's Health Care.

Matthew Levy, MD, MPH, pediatrician at Georgetown University who represented AAP at the announcement, invited legislators to visit the mobile clinic he runs for low-income children within blocks of the Capitol.

Progress, yes, but more is needed

In a prepared statement at the press conference, AAP announced that nine million children in the US are still not covered by health insurance, despite progress made possible by the success of SCHIP. The Academy called on pediatricians to sign and circulate the petition for universal coverage that is available on the campaign's Web site ( http://www.childrenshealthcampaign.org/).

"The good news is that we have the ability and means to cover every child in this country. What's missing is the political will," AAP President Eileen Ouellette, MD, said in the statement.

Other organizations joining the campaign include the American Academy of Family Physicians, the Catholic Health Association (CHA) of the United States, and American Federation of Teachers. They plan to convene town-hall meetings linked nationally by satellite feed, hold an essay contest for school children and other grass-roots events, issue policy reports, and convene a Washington "lobby day."

"We are thrilled that so many distinguished, well-respected organizations have signed onto the campaign before the launch, said Ron Pollack, head of Families USA, one of the campaign's constituent ogranizations. "And we expect that there will be huge increase in campaign involvement now."

Some numbers tell an unflattering story; others give hope

A statement released at the news conference by the advocacy organization Docs For Tots cited statistics that, in 2004, 11.2% of the nation's children were uninsured and that, of children living in poverty, almost 19% were uninsured.

At the announcement, CHA released the findings of a survey indicating that 65% of likely voters said the federal government should take financial responsibility for covering uninsured children, and that 80% of respondents who said that also said they would be willing to pay higher taxes to help pay for the coverage.

Sister Carol Keehan, head of CHA, said that Catholic organizations had carried out a campaign recently that assisted nearly 600,000 families in completing an application for Medicaid and SCHIP. At the same time, however, Sister Keehan reported that CHA saw many children become ineligible because of cumbersome renewal requirements.

Dr. Levy brought the matter home when he said that he treats children all the time whose life has been limited by a lack of health insurance: The teenager who wound up in the hospital with scarring eczema because his parents could not afford medication; a new high school graduate whose mother died and who must pay for his own asthma medications; and a 20-month-old girl whose foster mother wants to adopt her but hasn't-because the baby would lose her publicly funded health insurance.

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