Op-ed: Hatch deserves praise for long history of helping children

Salt Lake Tribune

With all the big-money lobbyists in Washington, it’s sometimes hard to find a public servant who’s looking out for the little guy. But Utah’s Sen. Orrin Hatch is looking out for the littlest of us all: children. That’s why the bipartisan children’s advocacy organization First Focus Campaign for Children was so proud this year to recognize Sen. Hatch as a Defender of Children – an award Voices for Utah Children heartily seconds.

Sen. Hatch’s recent leadership included critical issues for kids. He championed bipartisan legislation to improve pediatric medical research. He voted to modernize career education and focus youth job training initiatives on helping dropouts improve their skills and earn good jobs. He voted to update national child care safety standards, so Utah parents can feel confident that their children are safe while they are at work. And he introduced legislation, the IOYouth bill, to improve outcomes for children and youth at risk of domestic sex trafficking and other child welfare reforms. Provisions from IOYouth were included in a bipartisan/bicameral bill that Sen. Hatch helped shepherd through Congress. This bipartisan legislation also would ensure children in foster care find the permanent, loving families they deserve as well as important incentives that promote adoptions from foster care. The legislation also supports programs helping children who are in, or at risk of entering, foster care to reconnect with family members.

His commitment to children should come as no surprise to Utahns. Sen. Hatch’s long career of accomplishments for children ranges from legislation to create the national AMBER Alert Network to creating, then increasing, federal tax credits for adoptive parents.

Additionally, in the past, Sen. Hatch’s has worked to forge bipartisan cooperation in service of children: the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Sen. Hatch reached across party lines in 1997, working with the late Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy to help working parents cover their uninsured children when they earned too much to qualify for Medicaid but too little to afford private insurance. An analysis of national data released this year by the respected health care actuarial firm Wakely Consulting found that, compared with the new Affordable Care Act plans, CHIP offers more child-specific care with much lower out-of-pocket costs.

Care that meets the unique health and developmental needs of children prevents health issues from becoming lifelong burdens. With CHIP, Utah’s health care system can focus on improving health, not ignoring problems until they require costly emergency room care. We all win when CHIP delivers the care kids need to grow, learn and thrive.

CHIP is a state-federal partnership, giving Utah’s leaders the flexibility to design plans that work for Utah families and Utah’s budget. And CHIP is a true private-public partnership. SelectHealth, Molina Healthcare — the same private insurers that are household names for Utahns with employer-sponsored health insurance — also cover Utah kids through CHIP.

Washington is an uncertain place, and as children’s advocates, we are not taking anything for granted. But we are hopeful.

We take hope from the track record of leadership by Sen. Hatch on issues critical to children. We look to Sen. Hatch and those few among his colleagues who still believe partisan differences are not as important as shared interests. And we are encouraged to recognize that, in Sen. Hatch, the littlest among us still have a strong defender.

Bruce Lesley is president of First Focus Campaign for Children. Karen Crompton is President and CEO of Voices For Utah Children.

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