PIOLT EDITORIAL - Uninsured kids and Iowa's money

Thursday, October 5, 2000

Then we are told that there are still an estimated 53,000 Iowa children who have no health care coverage.

It just doesn't add up. Iowa has done a poor job of getting the funds to where they are needed, so we stand to return millions to the feds that could be working for needy children.

Iowa was given the money back in 1997 as its share of the Children's Health Insurance Program. It was supposed to be used to provide health care coverage for uninsured children. Iowa and all other states were given three years to use the money, and if they don't, it goes back to the federal government. Fat chance of seeing such a windfall again, then.

There's nothing wrong with that requirement, to be sure. If the money were not needed, it surely should go back to the taxpayers' treasury.

That isn't the case in Iowa. The need remains. Iowa used much of its share of the windfall to set up the much-balleyhooed Healthy and Well Kids in Iowa (HAWK-I) program. Some $26.3 million has been expended to sign up just 14,000 kids for coverage.

That leaves perhaps nearly three out of four

uninsured kids in Iowa still unreached by this program, still uninsured. That has sad implications for our

children, and for the public hospitals that will shoulder the burden when kids finally come in with serious problems and no way for families to pay for it.

General Colin Powell, when speaking in Storm Lake recently, called it a "crime" that children in a country with such incredible wealth should have to go without good health care provisions. It was well said.

It's even more of a crime when we have the cash in our pockets for three years, and lose a good chunk of it because we can't manage to match it up with the families that need it most.

Iowa Senators Harkin and Grassley, among others, are calling for an extension to be passed that would give the states two more years to use the money.

Such an act of Congress would be appreciated here, but what lawmakers should really be calling for is much better public communications by the state. Two more years of the same won't cut it. Whether it is distrust, lack of understanding, language and cultural barriers, misplaced pride or just pure failure to get the HAWK-I information successfully into parents' hands, it is a shame 53,000 times over that children should go without health care in Iowa while the state literally can't manage to give the money away...

It should be a wake-up call. Frankly, the state may not deserve a second chance with these millions, but we do hope it gets one anyway... for the childrens' sake.