So-called universal health coverage for children—that is, the government’s picking up teh tab for families that can’t afford private health insurance–has long been a goal of liberal advocacy outfits, such as the Children’s Defense Fund (it’s also a plank in Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama’s platform). There are actually already programs in place that ought to be providing a sufficient safety net for children–namely Medicaid and the federal S-Chip program that gives money to states to cover families earning up to $73,000 a year in some cases. But the Children’s Defense Fund says that’s not enough:

“Families are struggling to meet health care expenses that are growing faster than wages and inflation, at the same time that other costs (such as food and gas) are also rising. At the same time, covered health benefits are eroding. This problem affects the entire community.”

So one state, Hawaii, tried exactly that earlier this year: having the state government step in to guarantee health coverage to all children from families lacking insurance of their own. Here’s what happened, according to the Associated Press:

“Hawaii is dropping the only state universal child health care program in the country just seven months after it launched.

“Gov. Linda Lingle’s administration cited budget shortfalls and other available health care options for eliminating funding for the program. A state official said families were dropping private coverage so their children would be eligible for the subsidized plan.

“‘People who were already able to afford health care began to stop paying for it so they could get it for free,’ said Dr. Kenny Fink, the administrator for Med-QUEST at the Department of Human Services. ‘I don’t believe that was the intent of the program.’”

I don’t want to say, “I told you so,” although it’s tempting..