“It’s for the Kids!” We have all heard that expression, both in charity telethons, government policy and funding debates. For some, the mere sound of “it’s for the kids” justifies almost any program.
The Healthy Kids Program (HKP) is a good example. The goal of the HKP (House Bill 2201) is to ensure comprehensive medical, dental and vision benefits for all Oregon children in families earning up to 350% of the federal poverty level. There are many positive aspects of the HKP and the Governor has declared the program will “offer affordable health care for every child in every family in Oregon.” Any bill promoting Healthy Kids has to be good. Right? Many Legislators will support the Healthy Kids Program merely because “it’s for the kids.” But, once again, the devil is in the details. (If you would like to watch a brief presentation I give on the Healthy Kids Program, I have included here a link to my video explanation.)
As you saw if you watched the video, the proposed Healthy Kids Program legislation has four flaws that need to be corrected before it is ready to become law:
First, subsidizing health care for children in families earning 350% of the federal poverty level (FPL), is an expensive mistake. Government subsidized benefits are intended for those too poor to provide for themselves and their families. But, at 350% FPL, a family of four earning more than $72,000 will be able to qualify for HKP benefits. One of my daughters has given Cathy and me five adorable grandchildren. Her family of seven would be able to earn $110,000 and still qualify for government subsidized health care under the current version of the HKP. In my opinion, providing government subsidy to such high income levels is socialized medicine for the masses, not American compassion for the poor. The level of subsidy in the Healthy Kids Program needs to be lowered.
Second, although the Healthy Kids Program applies to all children under age 19, its taxpayer funded health benefits should be provided only for Oregonians, not those here illegally. The federal and state governments already pays for emergency health care for Illegals, through a program called program, and day-to-day medical and dental benefits to them at Federally Qualified Health Clinics ,such as southern Oregon’s La Clinica Del Valle. Since every child born in America is an American citizen, even if the parents are here illegally, the number of Illegals who are children covered by the HKP will be very small. Nevertheless, providing HKP benefits to them sends the wrong message to non-citizens who are in Oregon illegally. Essentially, we are telling them American citizenship does not matter because they can have the same tax-supported benefits enjoyed by those who keep the law and play by the rules. Benefits under the Healthy Kids Plan should be reserved for Oregonians; let the federal government pay for its failure to close America’s international borders.
Third, if Oregon state employees become aware that Illegals are seeking taxpayer funded benefits, they should be able to inform immigration authorities. In the current draft, the Healthy Kids Program does not allow state employees to inform immigration authorities when there is hard evidence that our laws are being broken. It is wrong to require state employees to be complicit in the illegal acts of those seeking state benefits.
Finally, since everyone agrees providing health benefits to Oregon’s children are a top priority, it should be funded from the 20% increase in state revenues forecast for the next biennium. Instead, the current bill would prevent giving Oregon children vital health benefits unless a mandatory tobacco tax increase is part of the package. Children’s health and taxes on smokers are two separate issues. If the Governor wants an $.84 tax increase on every pack of cigarettes, he should come to the Legislature and justify it. Instead he has made children’s health benefits into a political issue — and the Legislature has let him get away with it. They hope the Republicans will be so determined to help children that we will blindly pass a tax increase, when the Governor already has 20% more state revenue than ever before. Children’s health care is too important an issue to be played like a political football. Shame on those who cannot separate good policy from bad politics.
On the other hand, here is the good news. Excellent policy decisions are being made to help our children (and grandchildren) be both healthy and well-educated.
Earlier today I met with Steve Boyarsky, Superintendent of the Southern Oregon Education Service District. I respect a person who embraces both vision and action. Superintendent Boyarsky seems to have both. He shared with me the ESD’s plan to use a rural school health grant to install a two-way, televideo desk-top computer system in selected small, rural schools to help provide health services to children in schools that cannot afford their own school clinic, or even a nurse. By using real-time, televideo technology a trained nurse can provide medical assistance to rural school children. With state-of-the-art technology, a nurse in the city can see and talk with children in small rural schools who are having health issues. For many such children this will be the only health care they will get, short of an expensive trip to a distant hospital’s emergency room.
In addition, Superintendent Boyarsky described how small schools without funding for Spanish language classes are joining other such schools using the same televideo technology to provide cost efficient distance learning. Such classes are already in session and rural Oregon children are taking Spanish language classes in a school that would otherwise be unable to offer such instruction.
If televideo distance learning is already working in southern Oregon to learn Spanish, it could also enable Oregon students to learn Chinese — which I believe will be extremely valuable in the 21st century global economy. Gaining such foreign language skills is good training and will result in future employment opportunities for family-wage paying jobs here in Oregon.
Lastly, we discussed Superintendent Boyarsky’s “Southern Oregon Promise“ to our high schoolers. The Southern Oregon Promise is a concept proposal that provides incentives to encourage high school students to prepare to continue their educations after the 12th grade. It promises a scholarship to an Oregon college or university to those Oregon high school graduates who meet or exceed state standards in reading, writing, math and science. Too many Oregon high school graduates want to go to college, but are not academically prepared to succeed when they leave high school. Oregon spends millions of dollars in time and facilities on remedial education that could be avoided if students were more dedicated while in high school. With the “Promise” our youth can have hope that they can have the money necessary to go to college or university. If the high school graduate meets the state standards and gets admitted into an Oregon institution of higher learning, he or she will automatically qualify for a scholarship to help them pay for college. It will be a win-win program for youth, families and taxpayers. I salute such vision and action, and I will work with the southern Oregon Legislators to help make it a reality.
In conclusion, while everyone wants their children to be both healthy and well-educated, merely saying, “It’s for the kids,” is not enough. We need to assure we are doing the right thing, in the right way, for the right reasons. To do so requires governing with both our hearts and our heads. Every new or enhanced government program proposal should be required to include a 10 year plan for how it will be financed. Current budget discussions are bathed in the light of a 20% revenue increase forecast and the Governor’s hope for multiple additional tax increases, but there are storm clouds on the horizon. The hefty forecast for such high levels of additional revenue is partially based on the housing explosion, which has been losing its spark. Once again I will close with the recommendation that Oregon’s Legislative budgeteers must not create another budget without allocating substantial funds to a “Rainy Day” fund. The current economic boom time will inevitably be replaced by a recession. While the Governor’s plan to tax and spend makes for good politics, it continues a history of very bad financial policy. It is up to the people of Oregon to join with those who are willing to learn from the past. Do not let this Legislature adjourn without passing a budget which includes a substantial Rainy Day fund, and without requiring new programs, like Healthy Kids, have a sustainable source of funding for at least 10 years.