Kids and Families Need Health Reform NOW

Every day we hear stories of children and families who desperately need access to health care. In so many cases, families are forced to pay more than they can afford, or have to choose between health coverage and everyday essentials, like child care or groceries.

Thankfully, the House of Representatives has already responded.  Many thanks to Arkansas Reps. Marion Berry and Vic Snyder for voting in favor of the Affordable Health Care for America Act of 2009.  On the Senate side, debate continues on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

AACF took a look at these bills to see the impact on Arkansas children and families. The upshot? Access to some sort of affordable coverage for over 430,000 Arkansans under 65 who currently have none. Both bills both seek to ensure that more Americans have access to affordable coverage and services, regardless of pre-existing conditions, income, changes in their job, or the state they live in.

The proposals include many positive things for kids and families. We are especially happy to see that the bills would substantially increase Medicaid coverage for low-income individuals under age 65 (children, parents and childless adults) — to a minimum of 133 percent, or $24,000 for a family of three. In our state, that means more than 200,000 poor adults would finally have access to health care, many of whom are parents. Right now, a non-disabled parent in Arkansas is only eligible if his or her income is at or below 17 percent of the federal poverty level (just over $3,000 a year for a family of three).

Of course, neither bill is perfect. The Senate bill, especially, has room for improvement in two areas: improving affordability for near-poor families who receive subsidies and protecting comprehensive coverage that children currently receive under the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Even more questions around implementation remain. Overall, however, both proposals would be a significant step forward for the health of children and families in Arkansas.

It’s easy to become frustrated at the lack of progress or meaningful debate on health reform. But we should not become complacent. Health reform has never come this close to passage. Without it, Arkansas families will continue to lose affordable coverage, worry about costs of a medical emergency, become buried in medical bills to the point of bankruptcy, and struggle to get themselves and their children the care they need. We cannot continue to sacrifice families’ financial health for their physical health. Arkansas’s working families need Congress to pass meaningful reform now.

For more information, see AACF’s side-by-side and watch AACF’s e-newsletters and web site for updates.