State health leaders Thursday backed Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' plan to expand health care coverage for young children.
"As the cost of health insurance continues to rise, an increasing number of working Kansas families cannot afford health insurance," said Marcia Nielsen, executive director of the Kansas Health Policy Authority.
Sebelius has proposed providing coverage to the approximately 15,000 Kansas children from birth to age 5 who are currently uninsured.
The Health Policy Authority has endorsed Sebelius' plan to increase the upper income limit for families to be eligible for HealthWave, the federal- and state-funded insurer of low-income children, and to provide a state-only funded program for young children in families who are earning slightly more than that income limit.
Under both proposals, families would have to pay premiums based on their income.
The $4 million to $6 million state cost would be an "investment" in keeping children healthy and avoiding more expensive emergency treatments, Nielsen said. With matching federal dollars, the plan would cost about $10 million annually.
Several members of the House-Senate Committee on Children's Issues vowed to support the plan when the legislative session starts Jan. 8.
"Fifteen thousand kids with no health insurance in Kansas is unacceptable," said state Sen. Roger Reitz, R-Manhattan, who is a physician. "That (proposal) needs to happen this year."
Sebelius first rolled out her plan during the last session, but it went nowhere.
But Sebelius has said she intends to make it one of her top priorities in the upcoming legislative session. The newly formed Health Policy Authority said the initiative would be its No. 1 priority.
The authority also plans to establish new procedures aimed at covering approximately 40,000 children who are eligible for HealthWave or Medicaid but haven't applied for it.
Under the proposal, uninsured children who would need health care would be presumed to be eligible, and medical providers would be reimbursed for their services.
Officials would then determine within the next 30 days if the child is eligible. If they are, they will have health coverage for the next year, and if they aren't, the coverage would end.