Wednesday, May 2, 2007

The Importance of SCHIP

By: Senator Joe Vitale

On March 1, 2007, I had the opportunity to testify before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Subcommittee on Health, on the need for continued federal support for State programs aimed at providing health care for the uninsured. More than 46 million people in this country live without even the most basic level of health care coverage. Most of these people work long hours, sometimes at more than one job, but cannot receive health insurance for themselves and their families from their employers because they aren’t considered full-time. Rather than seek basic care for minor health problems, they ignore the symptoms until emergency care is needed.

Many states have recognized the dilemmas that the working poor of this country face. These states have begun to take the steps necessary to provide subsidized health care coverage to those who would otherwise be without. New Jersey, among other states, is living up to its responsibility our responsibilities, and ensuring that health care access is not offered based solely on income or job status, but as a basic human right.

The federal government created the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, also known as SCHIP, to help defray the high costs of providing coverage for the uninsured on the State level. In New Jersey, SCHIP dollars go to NJ FamilyCare, a program intended to provide basic medical care access to the more than 1.4 million uninsured residents living in the Garden State.

Under funding of the SCHIP initiative could cripple states’ efforts to meet the needs of their residents. Health care costs are soaring nationally, and without the full reauthorization of SCHIP, states will have to cut families from government-subsidized health care programs. As we’ve seen the number of uninsured Americans rise, and a greater role emerge for government-sponsored health care coverage, cutting back our responsibility to the uninsured seems contrary to the direction in which we should be moving we should be moving in.

I strongly urge our federal representatives to fully fund SCHIP, and give States the resources they need to provide adequate coverage for the uninsured. Without a good faith partnership between states and the federal government, we cannot provide the sort of services needed to combat the growing number of uninsured. However, if the federal government can step up and continue meeting its obligations, we can make a difference in the lives of millions of Americans struggling at the lowest end of the income spectrum.

Joe Vitale is a State Senator representing New Jersey's 19th Legislative District. The Senator is the Deputy Majority Leader and Chairman of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee.