Four years ago today, President Obama signed the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act into law. In the audience that day to observe the signing ceremony was the Secrest family from Martinsville, Virginia. They had been invited as special guests as their children received coverage through FAMIS – Virginia’s CHIP program.
Mr. Secrest had lost his coverage when he lost his job during the recession. As President Obama recounted at the ceremony, when Mr. Secrest gave the bad news to the family, his 9-year-old son returned with his piggy bank containing $4 and said “daddy, if you need it, you take it”.
I had interviewed Mr. Secrest and had written about his family experience with health care coverage. The Secrests explained that they felt fortunate to be able to secure coverage for their children through FAMIS although they couldn’t get coverage for themselves as Medicaid eligibility for low-income parents and other adults is very limited in Virginia.
I still vividly remember what Mr. Secrest told me when I asked him about the fact that he couldn’t get affordable coverage for himself and his wife. His response was similar to what we hear from many, many families in similar situations: “As long as the kids are covered, we’ll be all right.”
Sadly, Mr Secrest died of a heart attack just a few years later at the age of 43. According to a recent New York Times article, Mr. Secrest had been able to find a job but not health care coverage.
His death leaves me with this question: “How can kids be all right if we don’t make sure their parents have access to health care?” A growing body of research has made the link between a lack of health insurance and an increased risk of premature death. Research also shows that children are more likely to receive preventive care and other health care services if their parents have health coverage.
Thankfully, the Affordable Care Act offers states federal funding to offer more parents and other uninsured adults affordable health care coverage through Medicaid. Thanks to the ACA, about 4.7 million parents will have an opportunity to join their children who are already eligible for Medicaid or CHIP coverage, as long as their state agrees to accept the option. Others will be able to secure coverage through the new Health Insurance Marketplaces.
2014 can’t come soon enough for children with uninsured parents. And in states where leaders are refusing to accept federal funding to extend Medicaid coverage, the wait may be indefinite.
Today, as we celebrate all that CHIPRA has accomplished, let’s remember that children are better off when the whole family has coverage.