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Poll: Americans Favor Strongest Possible, Low-Cost Children's Health Coverage

By Melissa Attias, CQ Staff

August 13, 2009 -- A three-to-one majority of Americans would oppose the elimination of the Children's Health Insurance Plan (CHIP) if a health insurance exchange, an alternative to CHIP proposed in overhaul legislation, is more costly for families and provides children with fewer benefits, according to a poll released Thursday by bipartisan children's advocacy group First Focus.

The poll, conducted by Lake Research Partners, comes amidst concerns that the health insurance exchange (the Exchange) could lead to higher out-of-pocket costs for families while reducing benefits. On Capitol Hill, the House Energy and Commerce Committee passed an amendment by Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., that would ensure that no child is moved from CHIP to the Exchange until the secretary of Health and Human Services certifies that the coverage is comparable or superior. Similarly, the House Education and Labor Committee passed an amendment by Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., that would guarantee children access to screening, diagnostic and treatment services under the Exchange.

"No goal in health insurance reform is more important than making sure every child has the comprehensive coverage they need," said Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, in a news release. "Children who are covered under Medicaid and SCHIP must be guaranteed the proven benefits package they have today, and we must clear out the red tape that keeps uninsured children from gaining access to these crucial public health programs."

In contrast, the poll shows that 52 percent of Americans would be willing to eliminate or phase out CHIP if the Exchange provides children with comparable benefits. Yet Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, D-W.Va., said he opposes eliminating programs like CHIP that are already successful.

"Today, millions of children receive the check-ups and preventive exams they need only because of Medicaid and CHIP—federal programs that work," Rockefeller said in the release. "We should not experiment with the stable health care coverage children have today by exposing them to coverage in the Exchange that may have higher cost-sharing for families and provide far fewer benefits for children."

A survey of 1,000 registered voters nationwide, the poll also found that 87 percent of Americans support ensuring that all children have health care coverage, while 68 percent support providing all children with coverage even if it increases their taxes. In addition, 78 percent of voters said they believe it is extremely or very important that "all children in America are provided health care coverage as part of health reform," according to the poll, while 71 percent said that coverage should include legal immigrant children.

"It is clear that Americans believe children should be a top priority in health reform and it is clear that they support providing all young people with health insurance coverage," said First Focus President Bruce Lesley in the news release.

Finally, participants said they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who supported a health care plan that reduced the level of coverage for children by nearly a four-to-one margin, according to the poll results.

"As the debate moves forward in Congress, I hope that all members will listen to their constituents on the need to do no harm to children," said Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., in the news release.

Approximately 15 percent of respondents identified health care in general as their top concern, according to the poll, second only to the economy at 40 percent.

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