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North Dakota can move boldly to cover all uninsured children

Patrick Springer's Dec. 8 article notes how Gov. John Hoeven's proposed budget would reduce the number of uninsured children in North Dakota. The governor's budget would expand the Healthy Steps program for uninsured children by extending the cov...

Tom Fiebiger

Patrick Springer's Dec. 8 article notes how Gov. John Hoeven's proposed budget would reduce the number of uninsured children in North Dakota. The governor's budget would expand the Healthy Steps program for uninsured children by extending the coverage to families whose income is twice the poverty level, up from the current

150 percent. I applaud the governor for wanting to do more to improve the health of our children, who are the future of this great state.

I would note that while the increase to 150 percent was approved during the 2007 legislative session, it has only been in effect since October. Also, last session it was a struggle to get to the

150 percent. This, despite the fact that 41 states had State Children's Health Insurance Program income eligibility levels of at least 200 percent of the poverty level in 2007. North Dakota has one of the most restrictive income eligibility guidelines in the country, requiring children to be uncovered for six months prior to enrollment in SCHIP. Nearly two thirds of all states have either no waiting period or a shorter waiting period than does North Dakota for children who have applied to enroll in the state's children's health coverage.

Springer's article referenced approximately 14,000 children who lack health insurance in North Dakota, meaning

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8.9 percent of the state's children don't have coverage. This as we ponder as a state how we are good stewards of the people's billion-dollar surplus. This, as North Dakotans rightfully celebrate being lifted up by the New York Times and others as one of the few states in this country with a positive economic position.

Do we take bold action to care for our children and our future by insuring all our children? Do we make the investment in children's health as part of our ongoing commitment to North Dakota's economic development? It's no secret children do better in school and life if they are healthy.

For those who argue that we need a billion dollars in a rainy day fund, I'd respond that it's raining today for many people, including the many children who continue to be uninsured, even if we go to 200 percent. We can have a discussion about the personal responsibility of parents to provide health insurance for their own children. Yet we know in our hearts that may simply be a way of rationalizing why we let it be OK for many of our children not to receive the health care they need. Being uninsured is no child's fault.

What do we want our state to look like in 10 years or 20 years? Let's have a healthy rainy day fund. Let's have healthy children. We can do both. This is an exciting time of great opportunity and responsibility for our state, challenging us to take bold steps and lead.

This really is not a question of whether we should be making one-time investments and not do something because it may not be "sustainable." This is about more than that - it's about our priorities. The people of this state get to decide those priorities. It's about making a commitment to all our children; their good health is a priority that truly benefits us all. We must be the voices for the children without a voice and who depend on us to make wise choices and take action. Let's cover all our children.

Fiebiger, D-Fargo, was elected to the N.D. Senate from District 45 in 2006

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