Building a healthy future for every Oregonian

and Maribeth Healy

The Oregon primary season has barely had time to cool down since May 20th before the race for the U.S. Senate began to heat up.

Sen. Gordon Smith launched the first salvo of the campaign against Oregon House Speaker Jeff Merkley in a political game of "gotcha" over the issue of kids' health care. Let's be clear, we applaud both these men for their hard work to ensure that Oregon's kids get the health care that they need, but partisan propaganda does nothing to help the more than 100,000 Oregon kids without health insurance across our state.

As health care costs have continued to rise, more Oregon employers have dropped or drastically reduced benefits. This move has left tens of thousands of Oregon children and families without adequate health insurance, and has produced a never-ending financial burden for taxpayers who foot the bill for expensive emergency room treatments.

It's time we moved beyond partisan distractions and instead focused on the kids whose daily lives are impacted by not having access to health care.

All Oregon children need health coverage 365 days a year. Without it, small problems become real health risks: an earache that goes untreated threatens to become a hearing problem; vision problems go unchecked and affect a child's ability to learn in school; a child's cancer goes undetected, precluding early treatment options.

But if we provide health coverage for every child across our state and our country, we can eliminate these risks so that all our kids get a healthy start. Unlike many health problems facing children, the one that keeps tens of thousands of Oregon kids from seeing a doctor because they don't have health insurance is curable. Curing this problem — and meeting the medical, oral and behavioral health needs of all children — offers one of the best ways to keep childhood illnesses and accidents from becoming life-long health problems.

A healthy future for Oregon's children requires us to ensure their healthy development today — today's children are tomorrow's citizens, parents, and community leaders. That's why we have a responsibility as a state to make sure that our collective resources are being used to build the strongest foundation for our kids. Ensuring every child access to high-quality, affordable health care will establish this foundation and a guarantee a strong future for us all.

Oregonians are ready for a comprehensive solution that solves our health-care crisis once and for all. We need a system that focuses on prevention and disease management and provides quality, affordable and secure health care for all Oregonians.

Providing health care for children serves as one important step along a greater path toward ensuring that the health needs of every Oregonian and American are met. It is time for us to come together, not as Republicans, Democrats or independents, but as Oregonians who care deeply about the well-being of our neighbors, and who understand that we all win when kids grow up healthy. We can all share in the victory of providing health care for children and for every resident of our state because it's a victory that will establish a strong foundation for the future of Oregon.

The high cost of health care impacts all of us: businesses, families and governments. We urge our elected officials and candidates for public office to focus on solving the health care crisis that faces our state and our country. In 2008, we have an historic opportunity to confront one of the greatest social challenges facing our generation. Let's not let partisan politics get in the way of a solution that every Oregonian is demanding.

It's time for Oregon to return as the national leader in the health care reform movement, but that change won't happen unless we join together with one voice and demand from our elected officials that the political status quo just won't do.

Robin Christian is the executive director of Children First for Oregon. Maribeth Healey is the executive director of Oregonians for Health Security.

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