How Children Fare In Candidates' Health Care Plans

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

A report has detailed how children are treated in the health care plans of the presidential candidates, Senators John McCain and Barack Obama. The analysis identifies both opportunities and concerns with the policy changes outlined by both presidential candidates, with an eye toward whether the plans would ensure access to comprehensive and affordable health care for every American child.

The report takes into consideration the unique health care needs of children when analyzing the impacts of tax credits, purchasing private insurance across state lines, covering children through a mandate, and how public programs interact with private sector coverage.

The report concludes the following regarding Senator McCain's plan:

-- The McCain tax credit will weaken families' ability to afford coverage for children, as it is insufficient to make coverage affordable and does not keep pace with growth in the cost of health care premiums. Specifically, the tax credit fails to adjust for family size and the added cost when children are born or adopted. Therefore, the credit provides assistance for a significantly smaller share of health care costs for families with children than for childless households.

-- The 19 million children with special health care needs currently insured though employer coverage may be barred from insurance due to pre-existing conditions. Children who need insurance most, those who are sick today, could be charged much more for insurance, if they are offered insurance coverage at all.

-- By allowing insurance to be sold across state lines, millions of children will lose the protection of having guaranteed benefits. In fact, it is estimated that up to 55 million children could lose the protection for mandated coverage for well care visits, 18 million could lose autism care, and 16 million children could lose lead poisoning treatment.


-- Funding for public insurance programs for low-income children could be reduced, through McCain's proposed reductions in Medicaid spending. The report also concludes the following with regard to Senator Obama's plan:

-- The plan seeks to ensure that all of the more than 8 million children currently without health insurance will become insured through combination of public and private coverage options and by requiring parents to enroll their children in coverage.

-- Successful public programs will be expanded and strengthened to provide coverage to more children. The Obama plan would continue and expand Medicaid and State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), critical programs that act as safety-net coverage for children.

-- Tens of millions of children will benefit from improved consumer protections in the private health insurance market.

"When it comes to health care, children are not simply little adults, and their special needs are often neglected, overlooked, or assumed in federal health care policymaking. Sadly, kids have been overlooked in this year's congressional hearings and analysis of health reform proposals by the presidential candidates. This is the case despite the fact that children represent almost one-third of the non-Medicare population in America," said Bruce Lesley, president of First Focus, a bipartisan organization dedicated to making children a priority in federal policymaking, who commissioned this report.

"We have commissioned this independent research to identify the opportunities and concerns with the candidates' health plans and how they would impact the health coverage for our nation's children. As the economy remains damaged and unemployment rates increase, health care for children must be a top priority to ensure that the next generation has the care they need to grow up to be healthy and productive citizens."

In recent weeks, there have been a number of analyses of the presidential candidates' health plans, but none of those analyses specifically noted how children would fare under those proposals. To address this need, First Focus commissioned this report, which was authored by Peter Harbage, Hilary Haycock, and Michael Odeh of Harbage Consulting, LLC.

Harbage has advised both Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA) and former presidential candidate John Edwards (D-NC) on their state and national health care reform proposals. Both Haycock and Odeh have specific knowledge and understanding of pediatric issues addressed by the project.