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February 24, 1999

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First Lady



February 24, 1999

I want to give you a new toll-free phone number -- 1-877-KIDS-NOW. I hope you'll write it down or cut it out and pin it to your bulletin board. Passing this number along could be the most important thing you do for a child this year.

In August 1997, as part of the balanced budget agreement, my husband signed into law the largest expansion of health care in 30 years, providing coverage for millions of uninsured children and their parents. Although this was an extraordinary commitment, I knew it would take lots of hard work to actually get these children into the system, receiving the health care they need. But I also knew a country that values its children so much, is at the height of its prosperity and has the best health-care system in the world could do the job.

More than 4 million children are eligible for Medicaid but not enrolled. Millions of others could qualify for the Children's Health Insurance Program because they have working parents who are employed by businesses that don't provide health insurance and who can't afford to pay the premiums themselves. Or they have lost their coverage when their parents have lost their jobs. These parents want health insurance for their kids, but long and complicated application forms and a lack of information present stumbling blocks.

For the families of these children, the slightest cough or the smallest accident can cause enormous worry. A serious illness can lead to financial ruin or tragedy.

At the White House this week, I met Mary Smith of Baltimore, Md. Mary and her husband both work, but for three years, they were unable to afford health insurance for their two boys, Samuel Jr. and Thomas. Mary told me that she felt like she was "walking on eggshells" the entire three years, especially when the boys started playing sports. Since July 1998, her children have been covered through CHIP, and now, she says she feels much more relaxed.

Mary Smith might be able to relax now, but we can't. It's up to each of us to get this phone number into the hands of every single family that is eligible for Medicaid or CHIP -- in the largest city or in the most remote rural area.

This week, the President and I, along with several governors and private sector partners, launched the "Insure Kids Now" campaign to reach out and enroll every eligible child.

The heart of the campaign is the toll-free number 1-877-KIDS-NOW (1-877-543-7669). Thanks to an agreement between the National Governors Association and Bell Atlantic, parents who call this number will be connected with representatives in their state who will give them information about benefits, eligibility and how to apply for coverage.

"Insure Kids Now" is the product of unprecedented support from organizations all over the country, including the media and business, the health-care industry and community groups. This week, NBC is unveiling a new public service announcement to broadcast the number in prime time. I have taped a PSA that will run on several networks including ABC, Turner Broadcasting, Paramount and BET. Univision will air the information in Spanish, and radio listeners in 45 states will soon begin hearing spots as well.

In addition, major corporations including McDonald's, K mart and Ralphs Supermarkets are taking steps to display 1-877-KIDS-NOW on grocery bags and restaurant place mats, on school buses and in doctors' offices -- even on the toothbrushes that dentists give their patients.

And community organizations like the United Way, the National Collaboration for Youth and others that reach millions of youngsters are working to make sure that families hear about health insurance from the people they trust the most -- teachers and principals, doctors and nurses, rabbis and ministers, coaches and mentors.

While all these efforts are important, we must not forget that, first and foremost, it is the responsibility of parents to call this number and sign their kids up for health care. But that's not the end of the story. Everybody can help. To make sure that more parents make this call, every one of us who touches the life of a child in any way must join the effort.

Take a minute to think about the children you know -- the children in your neighborhood, in your children's schools, on their sports teams, in centers where you volunteer or in places where you worship. If any of them is going without health insurance, give their parents this number -- 1-877-KIDS-NOW. It could be the most important thing you do for a child this year.


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Talking It Over: 1999

December 15, 1999

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December 1, 1999

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October 27, 1999

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October 6, 1999

September 29, 1999

September 22, 1999

September 15, 1999

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March 31, 1999

March 24, 1999

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February 24, 1999

February 17, 1999

February 10, 1999

February 3, 1999

January 27, 1999

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January 13, 1999

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