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Archive for Saturday, July 29, 2000

Insurance funds fuel charges in campaign

July 29, 2000

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Richard Rodewald wants voters to hold Sen. Sandy Praeger, R-Lawrence, responsible for the state Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services being ordered to give back $2.6 million to a federal health insurance program for low-income children.

"She should have prevented that, she's on that committee," Rodewald said, referring to Praeger's role as chairwoman of the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee.

Praeger is seeking a third four-year term in the Kansas Senate. Rodewald is her opponent in the Aug. 1 GOP primary.

Praeger said SRS is being told to return the unspent money because the state was late in launching its Children's Health Insurance Program. It was late, she said, because lawmakers fought about its design.

"The debate came down to whether we should expand our Medicaid program or create a whole new entity," Praeger said. "I wanted to go with Medicaid because it's already there and all we'd have to do is raise eligibility levels. But there were a lot of people a majority, in fact who saw that as an expansion of an entitlement program. They wanted to go part Medicaid, part new program. I was in the minority, so I lost."

States that expanded their Medicaid programs are not being asked to return unspent funds, Praeger said.

"Generally, they were up and running before those that went with starting new programs."

Since 1998, all 50 states have launched federally subsidized health insurance programs for children in families with incomes between 150 percent and 200 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. In Kansas, those below 150 percent of the guidelines are covered through the state's Medicaid program.

After three years, states with money left over are expected to return money not spent by Sept. 1 to the federal Health Care Financing Administration for distribution to states better prepared to spend it. The arrangement rewards states for aggressively reaching out to poor families.

States that expanded their Medicaid programs put the programs into operation in mid to late 1998. Kansas' Children's Health Insurance Program didn't get started until March 1999.

"Without the long debate, we probably would have started sooner," Praeger said.

Today, the Children's Health Insurance Program insures about 17,400 Kansas children. Another 112,119 children are covered by Medicaid.

Rodewald said Praeger's explanation doesn't excuse the fact that Kansas will likely have to give back $2.6 million it could have spent.

"She ought to be held responsible for that," he said. "You can buy a lot of health care for $2.6 million."

Tim Hoyt, a spokesman for SRS, said SRS may not have to return the full $2.6 million.

"First of all, that's a projection. The final amount may not be that much," Hoyt said. "There's also a move in Congress to let the states keep this money."

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