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Archive for Sunday, September 21, 2008

Kids’ health seen as priority

Advocates seeking expansion of state insurance program

September 21, 2008

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— While universal health care may be a long-term goal for some, Kansas advocates for children are hoping the next president will work immediately to expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program - a proposal that President Bush vetoed last year.

"We really want Congress and the next administration to make a top priority approving the expansion of SCHIP," said Gary Brunk, executive director of Kansas Action for Children.

Brunk said he is concerned that the effort to make more children eligible for SCHIP could get lost in the potential political wrangling over any kind of major overhaul of the nation's health care delivery system, which could take years.

"In the process, the momentum we had this year in expanding SCHIP will get lost," he said.

In Kansas, a portion of SCHIP is called HealthWave, which provides health coverage at low-cost premiums for the children of working class families who earn too much to qualify for free Medicaid but not enough to purchase private insurance.

In Kansas, children of families that earn incomes up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level, which would equal $33,340 per year for a family of three, can qualify for HealthWave. The program covers about 35,000 children in Kansas.

Last year, Congress approved a $35 billion increase in SCHIP over five years, which Bush vetoed. A coalition of Democrats and some Republicans was unable to muster the votes needed to override the veto.

If the next president and Congress approve expanding the program, legislators in Kansas have talked about raising the income eligibility to 250 percent of the poverty level, which would be $42,925 for a family of three.

This would provide health coverage for nearly 4,000 more children in the fiscal year that starts July 1, according to the Kansas Health Policy Authority.

That could help a worsening situation in Kansas, which was one of only 10 states that has seen an increase in the percentage of people without health insurance. About 12.5 percent of Kansans, or 340,000 people, lacked health insurance in 2006-07, up from 11.3 percent, or 282,000 people in 2004-2005, according to U.S. Census Bureau numbers.

The expansion of SCHIP could depend on whether Democrat Barack Obama or Republican John McCain is elected president.

Obama has supported expansion of SCHIP while McCain opposed it and approved of Bush's veto.

McCain said the expansion bill provided a "phony smoke and mirrors way of paying for it." The bill would have been funded by an increase in the cigarette tax of 61 cents per pack.

But Obama said Bush's veto was "outrageous."

In a statement, he said, "If there's one thing all of us should be able to agree on, no matter what our political views, it's that our children should get the treatment they need when they need it."

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