A Generation of Healthier Children

02/11/2009 11:59 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The first step to providing health insurance for more Americans was taken last week when President Barack Obama signed the SCHIP (State Children's Health Insurance Plan) bill into law.

It brought back memories of when I signed Dr. Dynasaur into law in 1989 when I was governor. Vermont can take pride in knowing that we were the first state to recognize that if children have good health care they stand a better chance of becoming healthy adults. It is one of the most cost effective investments that the nation can make. Unfortunately, we had to wait for a Democratic President to recognize the value of this program. President Bush had exercised one of his rare vetoes on such a program, claiming it was too expensive.

President Obama and the more heavily democratic Congress understood that children's health insurance is a cost effective way to expand coverage for all Americans and reduce health care expenses in the long term. Children's health coverage is much less expensive than coverage for adults.

In the early days of my administration in the 1980's we debated how to provide greater access to health insurance to Vermonters. Gretchen Morse, my Secretary of the Agency of Human Services, came up with the proposal to start Dr. Dynasaur. I immediately put the program at the top of my agenda. Over the years the program has been expanded by Governor Howard Dean and the legislature.

The expanded federal program, which was started in 1997, will be paid for by an increase in the cigarette tax, an appropriate funding source.

Studies have consistently shown that when the price of cigarettes goes up, smoking, particularly among young people, goes down. This is a win/win situation.

The state of Vermont can be proud that Vermont led the way for the nation by providing health insurance for children whose families could not afford private insurance. The payback is a whole generation of healthier children who have grown into healthier adults. The same benefits will now be available to children nationwide.

This was originally posted at Chelsea Green.

Madeleine M. Kunin is the former Governor of Vermont and was the state's first woman governor. She served as Ambassador to Switzerland for President Clinton, and was on the three-person panel that chose Al Gore to be Clinton's VP. She is the author of Pearls, Politics, and Power: How Women Can Win and Lead from Chelsea Green Publishing.