After months of political jousting, advertising and partisan punditry, our national legislative leaders are finally putting real health care reform legislation on the floors of both chambers of Congress. As the special interests load up for the final fight and the politicians prepare for the last debates, there is one special interest whose protection should not be debatable � kids. [IMGCAP(1)] Far too many children in America have to play the lottery when it comes to health insurance. If you�re a lucky kid and one of your parents has affordable insurance provided by an employer, you win. But the odds are against you if you live in a state where access to children�s health coverage isn�t a priority, or if you live in a rural area where there are fewer services, or if your parents don�t know about services you may be eligible for. Kids pay a high price when they go without health insurance. Uninsured children are more likely to have no usual source of care, less likely to receive medical care for common conditions such as ear infections or the flu, and less likely to receive medical attention when they are injured. When children are covered, they are more likely to pay attention in class and keep up with school activities. The U.S. has made significant progress through the Children�s Health Insurance Program, which bridges the safety net gap for 7 million low-income children who do not qualify for Medicaid but whose families cannot afford insurance, according to a January 2009 Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services report. But in the health reform debate, Congress is getting ready to roll the dice on this key priority. Most health bills moving through Congress take the dangerous step of diminishing CHIP when lawmakers should be building on its success for five important reasons: It�s a smart investment: Under the current fragmented system of coverage, kids without health insurance miss out on important preventive services that can provide the foundation for a lifetime of good health. At-risk children enrolled in CHIP experience significant improvements in their physical and mental health, school attendance, academic performance and socialization skills after just one year of coverage. Health coverage offers significant return on investment, as healthy children grow up to be healthy, productive adults. It promotes prevention: A study in the journal Pediatrics found that up to 46 percent of children�s hospitalizations may be avoidable with proper home care or primary physician treatment. Health insurance enables children to get medical attention before a problem gets serious. It�s affordable: Children are a relatively inexpensive population to insure. In addition, research suggests that a significant portion of the cost of covering all children could be obtained by consolidating and utilizing existing funding. Funds now used to treat uninsured children who seek care through costly emergency rooms could be more efficiently and appropriately invested up front to pay for coverage. And a number of studies have found that enrollment costs could be reduced by almost 40 percent if the process were simplified, savings that could be used to provide coverage to more children. It�s simple: By streamlining a system that is fragmented and difficult to navigate, CHIP offers a single, integrated comprehensive coverage program that makes it easier for parents to enroll their children in health insurance programs. This is especially important for families whose children may be eligible for different social services programs, requiring multiple applications to different agencies. It�s good for state and local economies: Significant federal matching resources � up to two-thirds of the cost � are available to cover children enrolled in public programs, and these funds create a multiplier effect in the economies of states and counties. A study found that the comprehensive children�s health insurance program in Santa Clara County, Calif., boosted enrollment in Medicaid and CHIP by 25 percent, bringing in an additional $25 million to the health system over two years Finally, providing health coverage for all children helps medium and small businesses. An estimated 550,000 uninsured children have a parent working in a small business with fewer than 25 employees, and most of these employers either don�t provide health coverage or can�t offer it at an affordable price. Simply put, having health insurance improves the health of children. Health reform cannot be viewed as a success if our political leaders lose sight of this fact in the final legislation and gamble away the opportunity to create a healthier life for 7 million children. Dr. Robert K. Ross is president of the California Endowment, a private, statewide health foundation that was created in 1996 as a result of Blue Cross of California�s creation of WellPoint Health Networks, a for-profit corporation.