Good morning. I want to start off with some good news. For the first time in a dozen years, the number of Americans who lack health insurance is declining. One of the main reasons is that more and more uninsured children from low- and moderate-income working families are now getting health coverage through a program called CHIP, the Children's Health Insurance Program. It was a part of the 1997 Balanced Budget Act.
Today I want to announce some more good news about CHIP and discuss new actions I'm taking to strengthen the program. In just 12 months the number of children served by the Children's Health Insurance Program has grown by 70 percent. Today, more than 3.3 million children have health insurance under CHIP. That's making a real difference in their health and in costs to the health care system. We know that when uninsured children get health coverage, they go to the doctor's office more often and to the emergency room less often, and they're less likely to be hospitalized for conditions that could have been treated earlier and less expensively outside a hospital.
The success of CHIP is particularly impressive when you consider that the program has only been up and running for 3 years. It's a testament to the diligent efforts of the Federal, State, and local officials who run the program and to the love that parents have for their children.
Yet, there are still millions of children who are eligible for CHIP but aren't signed up, and millions of others who are eligible for health coverage under Medicaid but aren't getting it there, either. In most of these cases, parents just don't know about the benefits or mistakenly think their children aren't eligible. Also, in some States the application process is simply too daunting. As a nation, we must do more to reach out to these families so that their children will get health care coverage, too. I'm pleased to announce new rules that will make it easier to do that.
First, since our goal is to enroll more children, we have to go where the children are; that's the schools. Sixty percent of uninsured children nationwide are enrolled in school lunch programs. Under the new rules I'm announcing today, States will be able to use school lunch enrollment data in order to contact families who may be eligible for assistance with health insurance.
Second, under these new rules parents will now be able to enroll their children in CHIP or Medicaid the moment they fill out an application at child care centers, school nurse offices, and other convenient places. No longer will they have to wait weeks or even months, while their applications are being processed, before they can get health care for their children.
Third, these new rules will make it possible for more employers to provide health coverage to the children of their low-wage employees, with much of the cost picked up by CHIP.
With 3.3 million children now enrolled in CHIP, we're getting closer than ever to the goal I set 4 years ago of providing 5 million uninsured children with health coverage. With the new rules I've announced today, we've now done all we can at the Federal level to help meet that goal. It's now up to the States to do their part and to the parents, too.
So if you have a child without health insurance, call this toll-free number: 1-877-KIDS- NOW. That's 1-877-KIDS-NOW, for more information. If we all work together, we can make certain that our children get the health care they need to make the most of their lives in this wondrous new century.
Thanks for listening.