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Few things are as clear-cut or urgent as the need to get Kentucky's children off to a healthy start in life.
One, whether you're a parent or a politician, it's a moral obligation. I firmly believe that. Two, Kentucky's future depends on our ability to create a talented, inquisitive and productive work force.
One year ago, my administration launched an aggressive plan to tackle head on one of the biggest hurdles to our children's and our state's future: Lack of health insurance.
Numbers showed some 67,000 children lacked health coverage - even though they were eligible for programs like the Kentucky Children's Health Insurance Plan or Medicaid.
So we set an initial goal of signing up 35,000 of those uninsured children by June 30, 2010. I'm thrilled to say that we expect to reach that mark six months ahead of schedule.
Since the beginning of this initiative, about 32,000 additional children have enrolled in the KCHIP and Medicaid programs, at an average of 2,600 children per month. That more than doubles the monthly enrollment numbers of the previous year. Current rates indicate that, when the numbers for December are tallied, we will have achieved our initial enrollment goal.
Many steps were taken to achieve this ambitious goal:
We eliminated the face-to-face interview, shortened the application and made it available online.
We amended the re-enrollment process to give families more time to supply the required information.
We trained more than 2,500 people on the new application process, and increased the availability of enrollment materials - in both English and Spanish.
In addition, the Cabinet for Health and Family Services intensified efforts to re-enroll children who had previously been covered by the programs.
And finally, we expanded our outreach through health-care providers, community-action agencies, day-care centers, faith-based organizations and a back-to-school media campaign.
Results like this only happen when a community - including schools, health providers, non-profit and faith-based organizations and various other partners and supporters - rallies around a mission and truly works together on an idea much larger than themselves.
But now is no time to rest.
We must increase our commitment and our energy.
Much of the cost of signing up the additional children came from federal stimulus funds that end Dec. 31, 2010. The General Assembly and I must find ways to replace those funds. Fortunately, there's little doubt those upfront costs are more than offset by long-term benefits - healthier children do better in school and suffer fewer long-term health issues.
Furthermore, we still haven't reached every eligible family, and their numbers continue to be inflated by the ravages of this tumultuous national economy that have cost too many of our families their jobs, their homes and their ability to access quality, affordable health care.
Families across the state are tightening their belts, making difficult financial decisions in order to survive.
State government is going through the same process. Over the last two years, we've cut some $800 million in spending as we've shrunk our focus to core priorities like education, public safety and health care for the most vulnerable.
We will continue to cut spending - and we will have to, given an upcoming budget that figures to be one of the most difficult ever. But we will not - we must not - turn our backs on our children, especially our most vulnerable children.
Kentucky's economic future hinges on our ability to prepare our children - all of our children, from the innermost city apartment to the deepest mountain holler - for an increasingly sophisticated and demanding world.
We've made great strides in making sure our children have access to health care, and we will continue that effort. In doing so, we fulfill our obligation to not just our children but to ourselves.