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States raise bar to insure more kids

Lawmakers increase income limits to ease eligibility for government help.

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published April 29, 2007


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WASHINGTON - Many states are making more children eligible for government-funded health insurance even as President Bush's health chief says families are relying too much on public money for the coverage.

The goal of the states is to allow more middle-class families to participate in the State Children's Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP. The states are raising income limits so families once shut out because of their earnings now can qualify.

When the program began a decade ago, states could offer coverage to families whose income was not more than double the federal poverty level. Today, for example, that threshold is $41, 300 for a family of four. A few states use a Medicaid-based formula that lets them insure more children than those under the income limit.

Already, 18 states exceed the 200 percent level, with federal permission. Five more, plus the District of Columbia, could join the list this year, according to a survey by Georgetown University's Center for Children and Families.

New York lawmakers recently set an income limit of up to $82, 600 for a family of four. Eligible families get some government help in buying insurance.

Other states considering significant expansions in eligibility include California, Ohio and Oklahoma. Florida and Oregon are considering modest expansions, the center reported.

Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt said if other states followed New York's proposal, it would mean that 71 percent of the nation's children would be on "public assistance."

"SCHIP is being proposed in the spirit of the expansion of health coverage. But that isn't the reality, " Leavitt said last week. "For every 10 people that go on a publicly funded plan, six of them leave a private plan."

Jocelyn Guyer, deputy executive director of the Georgetown center, said states have determined that public health insurance is better than no insurance at all. She said a range of studies shows that most children entering the program would otherwise lack coverage.

"State leaders are moving in a very different direction than the Bush administration is talking about, " Guyer said. "They see that even moderate-income families increasingly find that coverage is simply unaffordable."

Guyer's organization conducts research but also advocates for more federal money for children's health insurance.

In 1997, Congress provided the children's insurance program with $40-billion over 10 years. The program now covers more than 6-million people, including about 640, 000 adults. The families make too much to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to afford private insurance.

[Last modified April 29, 2007, 01:28:19]


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