Advocacy Group Urges Expansion of Health Insurance for Children

by Lesley Politi on November 14, 2008

Advocacy group urges expansion of health insurance for children

Published Wednesday, November 12, 2008

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A national health care advocacy group reported Tuesday that more than 12 percent of South Carolina children have no health insurance.

Families USA said 132,000 Palmetto State children were uninsured from 2005 through 2007.

That’s 30 percent more than those without health insurance from 2003 through 2005, according to the group’s analysis of U.S. Census Bureau figures.

Locally, health professionals have also seen an increase in uninsured youth.

Dr. Frank Bowen, medical director of Volunteers in Medicine, a free clinic on Hilton Head Island, said the uninsured patient population he serves has grown by 4,000 since 2001. Of it’s 10,000 active patients from Hilton Head, Bluffton and Daufuskie Island, about 1,300 are children.

That’s nearly 22 percent of the total 6,034 uninsured children in Beaufort County, according to 2005 Census statistics — the latest available.

Statewide, more than half of the uninsured kids would qualify for government health insurance, including the state’s new program designed to help 60,000 poor children, according to the report.

The new program, approved by lawmakers last year, began enrolling children in April. It targets low-income families. A family of four, for example, could earn a maximum of $42,400 a year and be eligible for the program.

So far, the state has signed up 8,300 children.

Sue Berkowitz, executive director of the South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center, an advocate for low-income families, said she thinks the state is dragging its feet because Gov. Mark Sanford opposed expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. Lawmakers twice overturned Sanford’s vetoes.

“There has been absolutely no effort undertaken by the state to do any kind of outreach or any kind of coordination with other state agencies or the schools,” Berkowitz said.

The governor’s office says it is not responsible for the lack of enrollment. Spokesman Joel Sawyer said lawmakers did not provide funding to market the program.

Bowen said even if all 60,000 children were given government health insurance, it’s unlikely all would be served because there aren’t enough doctors.

“We have 45 million uninsured people in the U.S. and if tomorrow they were all insured, the capacity in the health care system does not exist to take care of them,” he said. “That is a problem.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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