Health Care Reform Iowa’s Democratic governor is urging congress to pass a health care reform package by the end of this year, but Governor Chet Culver is reluctant to express support for a "public option" that would let Americans choose from a private insurance plan or a government-run plan similar to the policy for members of congress.

"That may or may not be part of the final agreement," Culver says. "…The bottom line is we need health care reform in America."

Many rate Des Moines, Iowa, along with London and New Hartford, Connecticut, among the top centers for insurance companies in the world and a so-called "public option" in a national health care reform plan might hurt private insurers in Iowa.

"There are a lot of different ways to do this and at this point it’s clearly a federal challenge," Culver says, "and I believe they need to come up with a bill and get it to the president’s desk by the end of the year."

Culver toured Blank Children’s Hospital in Des Moines this morning to highlight the state’s "Healthy And Well Kids in Iowa" program, called HAWK-I, which provides no-cost or low-cost insurance plans for kids who aren’t covered by a policy.

"We can cover families on the HAWK-I program up to 300 percent above the federal poverty level," Culver said. "So that means for a family of three in Iowa, the gross income eligibility cut-off is $52,800."

Culver staff arranged for 17-year-old Kristi Ruth of Chariton to tell her story to reporters. Ruth’s arm was severely injured in a farm accident two years ago, and she’s had several surgeries and lots of physical therapy — all covered by HAWK-I.

"The Healthy and Well Kids in Iowa program is such an important program because it covers so many farm families and lower income families," Ruth said. "…And from personal experience I can tell you it’s a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful thing."

Ruth has become involved in the Farm Safety for Just Kids program and she urges farmers who are parents — and who find it difficult to buy insurance for themselves and their families — to enroll their children in the state-subsidized HAWK-I program.

"You should never be too proud to get insurance because children are the future and it’s really important that they’re covered and that they’re safe," she said.

According to Governor Culver, Iowa parents have enrolled 45,000 children in HAWK-I in the last 30 months. State officials estimate at least 27,000 Iowa kids who are eligible for HAWK-I are not covered by any insurance policy today.

"We have to find a way to push forward and provide access to health care for kids and for all Iowans," Culver said.

The governor is hosting a "town hall meeting" about children’s health care this afternoon. The hour-long event in the Old Capitol on the University of Iowa campus starts at 3 p.m.

Click on the audio link below to listen to Culver’s morning news conference in Des Moines.

AUDIO: Culver news conference…MP3 19 min.