Prepared Remarks for Campaign for Children's Health Care Launch

Sr. Carol Keehan, DC
President and Chief Executive Officer
The Catholic Health Association of the United States
Washington, DC

July 11, 2006

Good afternoon, and thank you all for coming. I am Sr. Carol Keehan, president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association. I would like to thank the other members of the coalition supporting this campaign, particularly Families USA, for making this event possible and providing me with the opportunity to speak to you today.

While CHA's faith tradition is at the heart of our effort to cover the entire nation, and children in particular, we believe this important work goes beyond the bounds of religious belief or political persuasion. It is a campaign to unite all Americans around a common concern for the health and the well-being of our children. What could be more important? What child is not worth an investment in health care by the wealthiest nation on earth? We owe it to our children — and to the health of our communities — to ensure that ALL children have health care.

The Catholic health ministry is proud of its long tradition of encouraging our nation to view health care as a right, not a privilege. As a former health care provider and hospital CEO in this city, I am well aware of how being uninsured directly affects individuals and families. In addition, the impact of 46 million uninsured on our nation's health is significant; uninsured people get sicker because they wait longer to seek care; the cost of treating the uninsured in a hospital rather than with preventive care is astronomical; and as more of us lose insurance coverage, the costs in health care spending and lost productivity will only continue to grow. This is a reality that must change.

The principles on which our country was founded compel us to care enough about people and communities to assure that everyone — but especially children — have health care. As a nation of compassionate and caring people, this should be an obvious choice.

At CHA, our Covering a Nation program is working to build public support and momentum for significant change in our health system, and participating in this campaign is part of that. Over the past 7 years, CHA also has worked with Catholic Charities USA and Catholic health care systems across the country to reach out to children eligible for Medicaid and SCHIP. While we were successful in assisting nearly 600,000 families to complete applications, we also saw many children become ineligible for public programs because of cumbersome renewal requirements.

This experience confirms the need to fix a system that allows many children to be covered one day and not the next. We need uninterrupted care for ALL children.

If we know how important it is to make sure children have health care, why are we here today talking about a problem that we agree should not even exist? One of the main obstacles to addressing the issue is a lack of awareness. In a survey conducted just last week for CHA — a summary of which is available in your packets — only 13 percent of likely voters named children first when asked to identify an uninsured population. It is clear that most voting Americans do not even know that so many of our children are at risk.

When they consider the issue, however, a significant majority of Americans want children to be covered and receive adequate health care: In fact, 65 percent of the 800 voters surveyed said that the federal government should take financial responsibility to cover uninsured children. It is important to note that only 31 percent of these people surveyed had children living in their home. What these numbers tell us is that Americans want this problem solved. But the numbers also tell us that many people are still unaware of the problem, and that is why this Campaign is so important. This is an opportunity for all of us to work together to first inform the public that so many children are not covered, and then to convince our fellow citizens and our elected officials that the time is now to take care of our children. There is no valid excuse for not covering children; there is no excuse worthy of us as a nation to let them remain at risk.

Obtaining coverage for the millions of uninsured children is an important first step toward the eventual goal of eliminating the word 'uninsured' from our national vocabulary. And this campaign will help us get there. Thank you for your time and attention.