Perhaps as early as today, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger may propose that the state offer health insurance to the 10 percent of Californian children who lack it - even if they're here illegally. We encourage him to take that bold stance.

How much health coverage the state provides to its residents is a hot issue all on its own right. Tossing the children of undocumented workers into the mix is enough to make emotions boil.

But the issue really has very little to do with the legality of being in America.

First things first: California - and Del Norte County with nearly a third of its residents living below the poverty level - would benefit greatly by insuring children whose parents lack coverage. About 763,000 children in the Golden State aren't covered by health insurance. Because of that, most of them rarely see a doctor. The result is children who do not receive medical care, meaning longer illnesses and more missed days of schools. They in turn cause other children - whose parents have health insurance - to become ill, increasing medical costs to all. Further, when the uninsured children do receive medical care, it's usually through an emergency room visit, causing back ups and higher insurance rates for those who do have coverage.

We prefer that when needs arise in society that the private sector be allowed to address them. Private enterprise usually can do so more swiftly than government and at less expense. But it's clear that the private sector is incapable, or at least unwilling, to address this social need. For the past 20 years, health insurance costs have risen at dramatic rates, and for almost as long the number of uninsured has grown.

The government, by ensuring children receive needed medical care, actually curb health insurance's rising costs. On one level, decreasing the number of insured children who catch illnesses lowers the number of people who use their health insurance. In the long run, care for children now means healthier adults years from now, again decreasing the number of insurance claims.

That some children who would be covered come from families of undocumented workers is irrelevant. Those children attend school, too, and visit other public places where andquot;legalandquot; children go. Viruses and bacteria do not distinguish between andquot;legalandquot; and andquot;illegal.andquot; Not insuring undocumented workers' children would be as effective of a health strategy as immunizing only some children against contagious diseases.

We hope the governor moves forward by advocating health coverage for all of California's children. It's what's right for the health and education of our next generation.