Off the Front Page: Uninsured kids

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(April 27, 2006) A CBS News/New York Times Poll taken in January found that an amazing 90 percent of United Statesians agreed that “the health care system in the United States “has so much wrong with it” that “fundamental changes are needed” or “we need to completely rebuild it.”

It’s hard to tell if Minnesotans feel the same way, since Minnesota polls haven’t asked such questions in recent years (talk about Off the Front Page!), but I think it’s safe to say that access to health care is a concern for many Minnesotans.

That’s why it was so discouraging to find that the release of a major study on children’s health care in the state was relegated to the inside pages. The study—called “The Road Not Traveled: Universal Children’s Health Care Coverage in Minnesota”—was released on April 19th by the Children’s Defense Fund of Minnesota (CDF). The next day’s report in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, pulled from the Associated Press wires, ran a mere 175 words, and one had to page back to B7 to find it. The Star Tribune was hardly better. They did have a staff-written piece, and it was somewhat longer at 332 words, but it, too, was relegated to the inside pages—B5, in this case.

The CDF study, running 22 pages, documents a “complicated, ‘patchwork’ health care system” that is “failing children” in Minnesota. It deserves far more coverage than I can give it here, but the following five “Reality Checks” included in the report give a decent summary of the key points:
Reality Check #1: The Uninsured Can Face Overwhelming Medical Debt
Reality Check #2: Cuts to Public Programs Leave Some Families Without Options
Reality Check #3: Rising Premium Costs Make Employer-based Coverage Unaffordable for Many
Reality Check #4: Safety Net Care Is Not Stable Health Care
Reality Check #5: Public Programs Barriers Prevent Access

The Star Trib report, in an apparent attempt to soften the bad news about uninsured kids, included in its lead the comment that Minnesota “still probably ranks in the top five states for the percent of children covered,” and went on to cite a comment from state Human Services Commissioner Kevin Goodno that “the situation may have improved in the two years since 2004.” Sure, it “may have” improved. Or, it “may have” gotten worse. Why this meaningless comment was included is hard to imagine.

Instead of this apparent attempt at “balancing” a report that seems pretty unambiguous, I would have preferred the inclusion of the urgent call from Jim Koppel, Director of CDF Minnesota:”We have to admit we have a problem, and then find the political will to fix it.”

Also not included in the news reports, although featured prominently in the report, was the following very telling quotation from Jan Malcolm, former Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner:

“The legislation that created MinnesotaCare in 1992 would have provided universal care through public programs and private insurance by 1997, and it included cost-cutting strategies. Both elements were repealed when it seemed to some people that the market was working, and we didn’t need that much government intervention.”

I suppose it goes without saying that neither of the local news reports mentioned that a universal, single-payer health care system – such as the ones currently before both the Minnesota House and the Minnesota Senate – would provide all Minnesota residents (including children) with insurance coverage.

The report is filled with all sorts of facts, analysis, charts, graphs, and other things that really belong on the front pages of the local press. To read the full report for yourself, visit the website of the “Children’s Defense Fund Minnesota”:http://www.cdf-mn.org/.

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