Outreach Director, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
One year ago last Thursday, President Obama signed the
Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act (CHIPRA) into law. The President’s words that day reinvigorated a nationwide
effort to ensure that children have the health coverage they need.
We have made significant strides since then, as CMS
details in a new report. Despite grim budget conditions, states
have expanded coverage, streamlined enrollment procedures, and stepped up
outreach efforts. And, when the
weak economy generated increased need, Medicaid and CHIP rose to the challenge,
covering 2.6 million previously uninsured children last year.
My memory of last year’s bill-signing got me thinking
about two incredible people who exemplify the challenge that lies before us: Greg Secrest and Ann Walker, both from Martinsville, a once-robust manufacturing town in
southern Virginia. Greg used to
work for a furniture manufacturer, but was laid off when the company moved
overseas. Without health insurance
or a job, Greg found help at Project Connect (a program funded by the Virginia Health
Care Foundation and Anthem Blue Cross Blue
Shield Foundation), where Ann, an outreach advocate, helped dispel his
skepticism about CHIP and signed up his two sons.
Invited to the White House CHIPRA signing ceremony last
year, the entire Secrest family traveled to Washington to join the President
and other distinguished guests. President
Obama mentioned the Secrest family in his remarks saying: “Let’s give Americans the support they need to weather this crisis… In the end, that’s really all that folks like the Secrests are looking for — the chance to work hard and to have that hard work translate into a good life for their kids.”
I called Ann and Greg last week for an update. Ann is still working hard to help unemployed families find the help they need. “Anywhere
there’s a door,” says Ann, “I’m still sticking my toe in. I’m a
nagger. I’m a stalker.”
Greg gives Ann high praise: “If I could give Ms. Walker a
medal, I would. She gave me peace of mind. Because of her, I have health insurance for my children and
I don’t have to worry when my kids go out to play.” That had been a motivating force — Greg’s 16-year-old had
wanted to play football and join ROTC, but his parents worried about what
would happen if he got injured and didn’t have health insurance.
Martinsville has the state’s highest unemployment rate,
at over 20 percent.
With many more companies downsizing or shutting their doors, Ann keeps sticking
her toes in where she has to — Stanley Furniture, Stuart Flooring, CP Films,
even Food Lion. She has been
invited by the local Virginia Employment Commission to be a part of the “rapid
response team” that visits firms laying off workers to give them swift access
to information about applying for available benefits. As Ann points out, the VEC visit may be her first, but it’s
rarely her last. It may take
awhile to reassure parents that Medicaid and CHIP aren’t “handouts” — they were
designed to help people get through tough times like these.
Greg Secrest is now a full-time community college student
with his eye on a business degree.
His wife, Rileen, found a part-time job keeping the books for a
biodiesel company. CHIP coverage
has helped enormously. During the
year, a football injury sent one son to the doctor. Sinus medicine for the other would have set the family back
$50 or $60 if it hadn’t been for insurance. The Secrests have renewed CHIP coverage for their boys,
although they needed Ann once again to troubleshoot when the paperwork they
submitted got lost.
To build on last year’s progress, on CHIPRA’s anniversary, Secretary Sebelius issued a new
challenge: Cover the remaining 5 million uninsured children who are eligible
for Medicaid and CHIP in the next five years. To do that, we’ll need many more Ann Walkers, with their
unrelenting spirit and willingness to stick their toes in lots of doors — but they’re going to need more
help from us as well. We need to
redouble our efforts to reduce the paperwork barriers that keep eligible children
from getting and keeping coverage.
We need to acknowledge, as Secretary Sebelius did, that Recovery Act
funds have been instrumental in bolstering state finances and protecting
Medicaid from cuts. Convincing
Congress to renew that support is absolutely critical.
Finally, we can’t forget that it’s not just children who
need coverage. Greg Secrest didn’t mince words when he said, “We as a country
need good health reform.” Despite
his family’s trials, Greg remains an optimist. “There’s a light at the end of the tunnel; we just have to
go a little further to see it. It will get better. I want my kids to know that.”
As we ended our phone call, Greg said he especially
wanted to thank everyone who worked for health coverage. I just want to thank Ann and Greg for
sharing their stories of perseverance with all of us.
The views expressed by Guest Bloggers do not necessarily reflect the views of the Center for Children and Families.
(Editor’s Note: Ann Walker is pictured above helping families access affordable health coverage for their children. She is one of the many hard-working outreach workers helping families secure coverage for their uninsured children.)