Topeka President Barack Obama on Wednesday signed into law an historic expansion of a program that provides health insurance to lower-income children, but whether that means any more Kansas kids get covered remains in doubt.
The expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, known as SCHIP, may add 4 million children nationwide to the program, which already insures 7 million children.
In Kansas, SCHIP provides health care coverage to 39,000 children.
The new law could extend coverage to 8,000 more Kansas children within three years, officials said.
The federal government pays 72 percent of the cost, while the state picks up the remaining 28 percent.
So any expansion of the program would need additional state dollars, officials said.
Currently in Kansas, SCHIP offers coverage for children in families with incomes up to 200 percent of the poverty level, which is $35,200 per year for a family of three.
The Kansas Legislature has already approved increasing the income eligibility requirements for the program to 250 percent of the poverty level by Jan. 1, 2010. But it hasn’t committed the funding.
“The Kansas Legislature authorized this expansion during the 2008 session,” said Kansas Health Policy Authority Executive Director Marcia Nielsen. “Clearly, however, the economic and fiscal condition of Kansas has changed since then.”
“While more families now find themselves in need of help to keep their children covered by insurance, the state has fewer resources available to make that happen,” Nielsen said.
Lawmakers are trying to bridge a budget shortfall that is nearing $200 million in the current fiscal year.
KHPA says it would probably cost about $3 million in additional state funds to make more Kansas children eligible.
Gov. Kathleen Sebelius said the federal expansion of the program, which had been vetoed by President Bush, was good news for children.
“I urge the Legislature to welcome this partnership with the new administration, and give more of our children a healthy start in life,” Sebelius said in a prepared statement.
When asked if she would amend her budget proposal to seek more state funding to take advantage of the federal expansion, her spokeswoman, Beth Martino, said, “I know that KHPA is going to work with the Legislature on the funding issue immediately. The governor is a strong supporter of SCHIP, so we will closely monitor how that goes.”
Some officials, however, were upset with the new law.
U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Topeka, whose 2nd Congressional District includes west Lawrence, voted against the proposal.
She issued a statement that said: “In addition to expanding eligibility to children in higher-income families, provisions in H.R. 2 water-down many of the eligibility requirements increasing the opportunity for fraud. Citizenship and identity documentation requirements are weakened in H.R. 2, increasing the likelihood of illegal immigrants enrolling in SCHIP.”
Supporters of the new law have denied such allegations.