Denali KidCare could be slashed in committee

Posted: Monday, February 21, 2000

At 3 p.m. on Tuesday, the House Health, Education and Social Services committee will vote to pass HB 260, which will effectively eliminate Denali KidCare and make Alaska the only state (or territory) without a state child insurance program.

Disregard, momentarily, that it is morally reprehensible to attempt to balance the budget on those most helpless and in need. Infants do not get to choose the income bracket into which they are born. All children deserve to be safe and healthy. Also ignore the fact that prenatal care is the single most cost-effective health care expenditure.

This ill conceived action fails to make long-term fiscal sense. Reducing the income eligibility from 200 percent to 133 percent of the federal poverty guidelines will save $2 million in state matching funds - but at what cost?

Alaska will lose over $5 million in federal funds for health care for Alaskan children in fiscal year 2001, and $7 million in fiscal year 2002. Denali KidCare is very effective in leveraging federal funds.

What about long-terms costs to the state? There are both economic and social impacts to be considered.

Ensuring children and pregnant women who qualify get the health coverage they need can be linked to gains in emotional or cognitive development and improvements in the educational process and outcomes for the child. This would logically lead to increasing the child's later earnings and economic self-sufficiency. Studies also indicate that it may also reduce the government's spending on welfare, education and criminal justice.

Improvements in health-related indicators such as maternal reproductive health and maternal substance abuse can also be expected. A recent study links a single drinking binge by a pregnant woman during synaptogenesis to learning disabilities, memory loss and other brain disorders. These maladies may largely be ameliorated with appropriate prevention and treatment services.

I urge you to contact the members of the House HESS committee and express your displeasure with this short-sighted and misguided measure.

Michael D. Christenson

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