Kids and families in the middle of the table
Celebration of children’s health marks 20th anniversary of RIte Care and R.I. Kids Count
PROVIDENCE – Amidst all the wonderful large photos of children at the 20th annual Celebration of Children’s Health sponsored by Rhode Island Kids Count on Nov. 24, the slide showing the trends of uninsured children in Rhode Island and in the U.S. did not paint a promising picture.
Rhode Island has been backsliding in providing health insurance to children. In 2013, the rate of uninsured children climbed to 5.4 percent, or about 12,000 children, the same number as in 2009.
What a difference four years makes.
Flush with his victory in the 2010 election, Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee used his first public appearance after the election, at the Nov. 15, 2010, annual Celebration of Children’s Health, to advocate for efforts to provide health insurance for all of Rhode Island’s children. Chafee praised RIte Care, and vowed that Rhode Island would again become the nation’s leader in the number of children who had health insurance.
Chafee’s commitment to RIte Care and health insurance for Rhode Island’s uninsured children wavered and became a victim of budget priorities.
On the very morning of the 2014 Celebration of Children’s Health, Chafee told ConvergenceRI: “RIte Care …is a great government program that helped people. But when the economy softened, it became somewhat unaffordable. Changes had to be made.”
In flush times, Chafee continued, “RIte Care was serving a [larger] population. But it became somewhat unaffordable, so we have to be careful in Rhode Island about the roller coaster of revenues, and what social services we provide as we ride this roller coaster of revenues.”
Chafee did not attend this year’s Celebration of Children’s Health.
Jobs, the economy and children
R.I. House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, along with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Rep. James Langevin, Rep. David Cicilline, R.I. Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed, and Lt. Gov. Elizabeth H. Roberts, did attend.
And it was Mattiello’s message – and his commitment to insuring all of Rhode Island’s children, that was the biggest take-away from the luncheon.
Mattiello praised Elizabeth Burke Bryant, executive director of Rhode Island Kids Count, as his favorite advocate. In addition to his focus on creating jobs and growing the economy, Mattiello pledged to help Rhode Island Kids Count achieve its goal to have 100 percent of all children living in Rhode Island covered by affordable, comprehensive, high-quality health insurance.
Wisdom of the elders
Three community leaders were honored with Covering Kids awards: Linda Katz, from the Economic Progress Institute, Marti Rosenberg, from the Providence Plan, and Tricia Leddy, recently retired after 32 years in public service in state government, most recently with HealthSourceRI.
All three had been working on children’s health issues for the last two decades, having helped to create the RIte Care initiative and then shepherd it through the R.I. General Assembly.
Each had their own compelling story to tell, but Leddy offered a particularly insightful remembrance of things past. The secret of RIte Care’s success was that everyone owned it, Leddy said. Putting “children and families in the middle of the table” proved to be winning strategy.
Leddy recalled that in the comment boxes, parent after parent wrote: “God Bless RIte Care.”
In her talk, Paiva Weed drew parallels between the success of RIte Care and efforts undertaken to rewrite the state’s welfare law in 1996, something she helped do as part of a collaborative effort of advocates and legislators and the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council. The new law put the emphasis on providing health care and day care to help get single mothers back into the workforce, and it required having a conversation with business leaders to get their buy-in.
“We need to have a similar conversation now, with insurers and providers, to get the 12,000 uninsured children in Rhode Island access to health insurance,” she said.
With both Paiva Weed and Mattiello backing an expansion of RIte Care, it should surprise no one – including Gov.-Elect Raimondo – if it finds support in the FY 2016 budget.
Serena Simeone, a single mother with three children, along with her son, Braden, offered poignant testimony about the importance health insurance has made in her life and in the life of her children.
At most Rhode Island Kids Count events, parents and children are welcome and encouraged to speak up.