(CNSNews.com) – On the west lawn of the Capitol, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) gathered with child health advocates and singer Paul Simon to claim that 21 million “children” without health insurance is reason to pass the Democrats' health care bill.
“It is compelling and critical that we get everyone in our country covered, and particularly our children,” said Dr. Irwin Redlener, president and co-founder with Simon of the Children’s Health Fund (CHF), which provides access to health care for low-income children. “What many people do not quite appreciate is how many children are now left out of the system.”
“We have approximately 21 million children and young people, this is ages 0 through age 24 who do not have health insurance and have not had it for some significant part of the last 12 months.” Redlener said at the event last week. “This is an extraordinarily important problem because the fact of the matter is that children without health insurance to get health care end up carrying a burden of disease and illness for the rest of our lives.”
In the United States, a person is legally considered an adult at age 18 under most circumstances. Some people under the age of 18 are considered adults for purposes of marriage or the signing of contracts.
A CFC white paper was distributed at the event entitled “The Recession and Child Health Access: Why 21 Million Uninsured Kids and Young Americans Can’t Wait for Health Care Reform.” The paper relies on a Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS) conducted by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The paper arrives at the 21 million figure by combining the approximately 11 million uninsured children under 18 with the almost 10 million adults ages 18 to 24 who were without insurance for the first half of 2008, according to the HHS survey.
CSNNews.com asked why the CHF does not use the U.S. Census Bureau’s report released on Sept. 10, which states that there are 7.3 million uninsured children, the lowest number recorded since the bureau starting tracking the statistic.
Roy Grant, director of research at CHF, said methodology was the issue.
“The MEPS standard for ‘uninsured’ includes children who are uninsured for part of the year. The Census Bureau data are limited to children who are uninsured for a full year,” Grant said. “Gaps in coverage have an impact on child health access similar to being full-year uninsured.”
“It is well known that including children with gaps in coverage significantly increases the percent/number of uninsured,” Grant said.
Grant also said counting uninsured “adolescence” is important.
“The Census Bureau looks only at children 17 and under,” Grant said. “MEPS provides data on adolescents 18 years old and an aggregate age group of older adolescents and young adults (19-24).”
“Including older adolescents and young adults increased the number of uninsured because their rate of uninsured is very high,” Grant said. “These are individuals who are likely to be excluded from parents’ employer-provided health insurance because of age and also to be above the age limit for [federal health programs] Medicaid or SCHIP.”
According the Census Bureau, in 2008 the number of uninsured children under 18 and those 18 to 24 without insurance combined adds up to 15, 548,000 – more than 5 million less than the MEPS survey totals.
As reported earlier by CNSNews.com, according to a report released on Sept. 10 by the U.S. Census Bureau entitled “Income, Poverty and Health Insurance in the United States: 2008,” the uninsured rate for children18 years and under declined in 2008 to the lowest level since the Census Bureau has been tracking the number.
“In 2008, the percentage and number of children under 18 without health insurance were 9.9 percent and 7.3 million, lower than they were in 2007 at 11.0 percent and 8.1 million,” says the Census Bureau report. “The uninsured rate and number of uninsured for children are the lowest since 1987, the first year that comparable health insurance data were collected.”
The crowd at the event seemed mostly interested in snapping photos of Paul Simon, who said the American people should be concerned about children who don’t have health insurance and that the Democratic plan was the best hope for those children.
“Let’s cut out the political stuff and pass this legislation that’s very much needed,” Simon said.
Reid acknowledged that he and his wife are big fans of the singer-songwriter and used Simon’s lyrics to criticize the American health care system and the need for reforming it.
“I’ve indicated those are the troubled waters,” Reid said of the current health care system. “And if there were ever a bridge that we needed over these troubled waters, it’s passing comprehensive health care reform.”
“I guess if we could do that, Paul, we could really say we have diamonds on the soles of our shoes,” Reid said.
Pelosi arrived near the end of the event and made a statement about the Democrats’ plans for health care reform.
“When all is said and done, reform means that American families will no longer have to spend too much of their hard-earned paychecks on health care and keep more money in their pockets to raise their children,” Pelosi said. “So today we have an opportunity to transform our economy and build a foundation for prosperity for every citizen and strengthen the character of our country.”
Redlener said there is a sense of urgency for passage of health care reform legislation because of the millions of uninsured children.
“It’s an opportunity we can’t miss, we can’t avoid, and I’m telling you there are 21 million children and young people who are waiting for action on this reform bill,” Redlener said.
The other child advocacy groups that endorsed the white paper and the event were the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Association of Children’s Hospitals and Related Institutions.