Monday, April 18, 2005

Kerry says new plan helps kids

Kerry says new plan helps kids

By Marie Delahoussaye

Former Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass, promoted his health-care program at a city-hall-style forum held on campus Saturday.

Kerry's bill, the Kids Come First Act, would increase federal Medicaid funding and expand the Children's Health Insurance Program.

Kerry said children's health insurance is a critical first step to meeting the needs of American families. He criticized President Bush's tax policy and lamented the growing economic burdens imposed by globalization that are squeezing American families out of health care.

"In the wealthiest country in the world, it's an outrage that there are children going without immunizations, asthma medicine and basic health-care needs," Kerry said.

Kerry said his bill would provide coverage for 11 million children who cannot afford private insurance and currently don't qualify for CHIP or Medicaid. The act would fully finance Medicaid programs, which states now spend $10 billion on annually.

In return for free federal Medicaid coverage of families with incomes at or below the federal poverty line - $15,670 annual income for a family of three - states would agree to expand CHIP coverage.

CHIP would expand coverage to families earning up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level, or $47,010 annual income for a family of three.

The federal government would continue to match state money spent on CHIP at $2.65 to the state's dollar, and coverage would be expanded to include 19- to 21-year-olds.

Kerry's bill would also require states to make their CHIP programs more accessible and continuous.

Texas currently has the highest rate of uninsured children in the nation at 22 percent, according to statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau. During the 78th Legislature, state CHIP funding was substantially cut, benefits were cut, and eligibility requirements changed.

Texas families are required to renew CHIP every six months, which has led to decreased enrollment.

Kerry's bill would mandate continuous and automatic enrollment.

"You go to day care, you're enrolled. You go to school, you're enrolled," Kerry said.

Kerry also talked about rejuvenating American democracy through continuous engagement.

"What we need to do is put accountability back into our democracy and back into our political process," Kerry said.

Kerry said he felt more energized than ever and is optimistic about the growth of the Democratic Party.

"I don't buy into the notion that the party is out of touch," he said. "We are building a strong grass-roots coalition, and I am really committed to helping our party win back seats in the House and Senate in the 2006 midterm elections."

Kerry said his health-care initiative fits into a wider focus on preparing America's children to be successful citizens.

He said the Kids Come First Act epitomizes the moral values that have dominated the political debate.

"Politicians of both parties all walk and talk about the importance of children," Kerry said. "What they ought to be doing is reflecting the ethics of America and changing the law to provide health care to every single American."


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