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Local children's health care will be forum's topic

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

SIKESTON -- The state's leading independent advocate for children is looking for input to learn more about local trends in children's health care.

An educational town hall forum to discuss the State Child's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), the latest Kids Count data and Medicaid redesign will be from 3 to 6 p.m. March 27 at New Madrid County Central High School.

The annual Kids Count report, which is published by Citizens for Missouri's Children, analyzes children's health and well being in Missouri's 114 counties and the city of St. Louis.

In 2006, local counties were ranked among the worst in the Kids Count report with Scott County at 83, New Madrid at 103, Mississippi County at 98 and Stoddard County at 111.

The forum, which is sponsored by several local and state agencies, is geared to the general public with a focus toward parents and individuals who work in the child-serving industries, such as health care, education or child protection, in Scott, New Madrid, Mississippi and Stoddard Counties.

"Healthcare provides a foundation for many children. It can improve outcomes in school and other areas," said Catherine Marterella, program director of Citizens for Missouri's Children.

Among topics to be addressed at the forum include the number of children enrolled in free and reduced lunch programs -- which is an indicator of poverty level status -- and the number of children referred to protective services, an indicator of child abuse and neglect.

More specifically, SCHIP will be discussed, Marterella said. In 1997, Congress created the SCHIP program to offer health care assistance to children in working families. This year Congress must reauthorize SCHIP so that federal financing can continue. In Missouri, the program is known as MC+.

"There are concerns the program won't be reauthorized at the appropriate funding levels," Marterella said, adding the program has been extremely cost effective.

While SCHIP is a national program, each state manages their programs differently, Marterella said.

According to Missouri Department of Social Services data, statewide from January 2005 to December 2006, about 70,000 fewer children are participating in public health insurance programs due to program cuts or changes in eligibility requirements.

However, in local counties, more children are participating, and the gains are in the number of children in poverty category. For example, from January 2005 to December 2006, the number increased from 1,895 to 2,914 in Scott County; from 837 to 1,388 in New Madrid County; from 711 to 1,255 in Mississippi County; and from 1,293 to 1,954.

"It's becoming harder and harder for parents to find affordable health insurance because fewer and fewer employers are offering insurance," Marterella said.

The problem of health care insurance keeps growing, Marterella said, adding the profile of the uninsured is not who you think it might be.

"It's people with jobs who are doing the right thing and raising their children. This a problem we can solve, and covering kids is the first step," Marterella said.

Other town halls are scheduled throughout the state in Cape Girardeau, Springfield and Columbia, Marterella said.

"We will present some information, and hopefully, people will learn -- and we will learn something from them," Marterella said. "We want to find out what what's going on in the communities -- the successes and challenges they're having."

A panel of local physicians and health care providers will also be on hand to talk about what they're seeing with local families regarding health insurance coverage.

"This will be a good event, and it's an opportunity to point out what we see as problems," Jayne Dees, assistant administrator of the New Madrid County Health Department. "I hope we have a good turnout."

For more information, contact Revonda Kirby of the New Madrid Family Resource Center at (573) 748-2778.