THE BLOG

Talk Radio Hosts, Orphanages, and Children's Health Insurance

06/22/2011 03:17 pm ET | Updated Aug 22, 2011

The conservative talk-radio world erupted in anger a few weeks ago, when Gov. John Hickenlooper vetoed a bill that would have required families near the poverty level to pay more for state-subsidized health insurance for their kids.

On KLZ's Grassroots Radio Colorado June 1, Rep. Brian DelGrosso told hosts Ken Clark and Jason Worley that families need to "have some kind of skin in the game."

On Regis University Radio's (KRCX) Seng Center June 2, state Rep. Kathleen Conti told host Jimmy Sengenberger: "It's my experience, especially as a parent, that if people don't have any investment, they don't appreciate what they have."

On the same show, Conti's colleague Rep. Robert Ramirez added that it's "not a big deal" to ask families earning between 205 and 250 percent of the poverty level, making $45,000 to $55,000 per year, to pay between $240 and $600 per year for health insurance, as stipulated by the bill vetoed by Hick.

But the talk-show hosts didn't ask a question that might keep you up at night if you had to vote on the bill:

What if families are required to pay more for their children's health insurance, and they don't pay?

And what if, as a result of not ponying up, they don't take their kids to the doctor for checkups and something goes wrong? And their kids, not their parents, ultimately pay the price?

On the radio, DelGrosso said he thinks families making about $55,000 per year have enough money to pay more for their kids' health insurance.

"They are not taking trips to Mexico on that, probably," he said. "But quite frankly, they are not living in a cardboard box on the side of the road either."

DelGrosso is partially right here.

The Colorado State Legislature's bipartisan staff, in its fiscal analysis of the bill vetoed by Hickenlooper, estimated that 80 percent would pay the higher premiums. And a report by the Colorado Center on Law and Poverty shows that half or more of the families in question have some money left over after necessities and financial obligations.

But what about the half who don't? And what about that pesky 20 percent? The state's fiscal analysis assumed that 20 percent of kids in families from this income group would drop off the health insurance rolls.

On KLZ radio, DelGrosso questioned the 20 percent drop-off figure, saying it wasn't based on a study of what happens to kids from families making 206 to 250 percent of the poverty level.

"So they were seeing a 20 percent drop off with the very low income," DelGrosso told Worley. "But it wasn't a true apples to apples. It wasn't people making $50,000 a year, are we going to really see a 20 percent drop off. So even some of their statistics are wrong."

I called Joint Budget Committed Fiscal Analyst Melodie Beck, who arrived at the 20 percent figure, to find out if DelGrosso was right.

Turns out, he was.

"Different states and different studies have shown different rates of drop off," Beck told me. "There wasn't an apples-to-apples study. We honestly don't know for sure. In my professional judgment, we picked a fair and defensible assumption of 20 percent based on the available studies. But there is uncertainly. You could have differing opinions."

She told me she believes one thing is certain. Some parents will drop their kids' health insurance: "There's going to be a drop off, whether 20% is correct drop off, maybe not. Maybe it's 10 percent. Maybe it's 25 percent. Maybe it's 30 percent."

So this gets back to the unasked question. How do legislators like DelGrosso, Conti, and Ramirez feel about the children who are going to lose their health insurance if Colorado makes families pay more?

I decided I'd do Jimmy Sengenberger's job for him and call Ramirez myself to find out what he thinks.

"The bad parent, it's still their responsibility to take care of their kids," he told me, adding: "If there are parents who aren't going to take care of their kids, Jason, that's where child services comes into play."

(Back in March, Sen. Greg Brophy suggested foster care for kids in this situation.)

Is he concerned that this approach puts kids at risk?

"When you're talking about risk, I keep hearing, we need to take care of our children," Ramirez replied. "Not true. We need to make sure that people having children are being responsible. And that's where social services comes in."

Ramirez, who points out that uninsured children still have treatment options in America, told me he wants to lessen risk to kids in the long run by addressing the financial problems now: "I think it [the bill Hickenlooper vetoed] was the right thing to do to save the program. Let's save the program and pass on some of the costs, because we don't have the money to run it. And with the increase in Medicaid, it just killed us all the way around."

Overall, he said: "I accept the responsibility that as a community we should watch out for people and help people when we can as a community. That's what churches and charities are for. That's where I give my time and money. I'm involved in several organizations. That is not a function of government. It is not constitutional."

Sengenberger, along with Clark, Rosen, and other conservative talkers, should really start asking their guests about the risks of dismantling government programs. This might add more spice to the shows.

KLZ's Worley, for example, told me via email: "BTW, the endgame on this is that if parents don't take care of their kids they go to jail. We have laws against child abuse. But unless you want to put a govt monitor in every house there is no easy answer."

It seems Worley's guests are thinking along the same lines, but Worley and his counterparts should do us and their ratings a favor and talk about it.