Plans to cover uninsured kids

Pawlenty’s health care initiative is a welcome, much-needed step.

Universal health care coverage has an unlikely new advocate in Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Only a week after narrowly winning re-election, the governor has called for the state to take steps toward covering uninsured children and, eventually, make health care coverage accessible to all Minnesotans.

During his first term, Pawlenty repeatedly cut funding for MinnesotaCare, a program that helps subsidize health care costs for the working poor and their families. Now that the state’s red ink has turned black, its time to make up for gutting coverage and eligibility during budget shortfalls.

Pawlenty has said the first step is to extend coverage to children, and we wholeheartedly agree. Children, unable to vote or speak out on their own behalf, are the most vulnerable group in society. Their welfare is dependent on our decisions, and over the last few years, it’s clear we have been failing them. While other states have been extending coverage, we have been reducing it. The number of uninsured children has steadily increased over the last five years, and some believe it could now be as high as 90,000.

With a projected budget surplus of $1 billion, we believe that now is the time to start giving these kids the kind of support they deserve. Research shows that healthy kids do better in school, and often lead healthier lives as adults.

Increasing coverage for children is a fine place to start, but hardly the only issue surrounding health care that needs attention. Health care premiums have been rising and HMOs have failed to rein in their costs. The myriad of rules and red tape associated with even applying for health care should also be simplified into a more manageable, efficient administrative system. There are an estimated 275,000 uninsured adults in Minnesota. We should examine how we can extend benefits to them as well.

The DFL-controlled Senate had been pushing for increased coverage for years, but it had been blocked in the House. With an incoming DFL majority in that chamber, the legislature should waste no time in pursuing some real health care solutions.