Irwin Redlener, MD, President and Co-founder of the Children's Health Fund, a national organization that advocates for and develops primary care programs for disadvantaged and medically underserved children, today released the following statement on release of the final Senate health care legislation by Majority Leader Harry Reid:
"First and foremost, we applaud the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on producing this historic health reform bill which will provide millions of currently uninsured children access to comprehensive health insurance coverage.
"We support Congress' goal to fulfill President Obama's campaign promise to provide mandated coverage for all children. We have been vocal in our concern for the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and we are hopeful that Senator Reid's manager's amendment, that keeps the program intact through the end of 2019 with funding until 2015, will be preserved as Congress moves forward with this process.
"We do remain concerned, however, about its future fate: CHIP will run out of funding in 2015 and expire in 2019, moving millions of children into private coverage through an untested health insurance exchange that will increase costs and may deter families from signing their children up for insurance. The implication of fewer kids with health coverage is disastrous, both from a public health and an economic standpoint.
"As the bill moves forward, CHF urges Congress to preserve CHIP and provide funding for the entire authorization period.
"We are pleased with the number of positive health measures for kids and their families, among which are provisions that will require insurance companies to allow children to stay on their parent's plans until they are 26 years old and Medicaid expansions that allow foster children to remain on Medicaid until they are 26 years old.
"The legislation bans insurance companies from denying children with pre-existing conditions coverage under their parent's plans, an important reform measure which we believe will enable sick children, and families suffering under debt, to get the care kids need.
"Likewise, we are pleased with the inclusion of pediatric specific benefits in the list of essential benefits to be provided to all Americans in the newly formed exchange and efforts to strengthen access to oral health for children. Pediatric oral health is often lacking in medically underserved areas, with dire consequences for children and families.
"As a partner with several community health centers across the country, we are encouraged by the increased funding for community health centers and the bonus payment for primary care providers in medically underserved areas.
"In terms of insurance affordability, although the bill provides subsidies to help low income uninsured families purchase insurance, the help is not sufficient to ensure healthcare options are affordable and we urge Congress to increase these subsidies.
"We are heartened to see loan repayment scholarship programs to incentivize more primary care physicians to join the pediatric workforce and to work in health professional shortage areas as well as increased funding to community health centers, but we remain concerned that the funding is insufficient to meet a massively increased need for primary care.
"Unfortunately, the Senate bill fails to improve reimbursement rates for Medicaid providers and omits a provision to automatically enroll otherwise uninsured infants, both of which were in the House bill.
"CHF continues to support passage of the health reform legislation but believes children's provisions can be further strengthened and will fight to ensure children get a good deal in the final bill.
"CHF thanks Senate Majority Leader Reid for his ongoing leadership and commitment to passing health reform and applauds Senators Jay Rockefeller and Robert Casey for their steadfast support of the CHIP program.
"Overall, we support this legislation and look to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to provide the leadership needed to pass this historic health reform legislation in a timely manner."
Children's Health Fund released a "Health Care Report Card" on the bill that can be found at www.childrenshealthfund.org.