Child health coverage expands

Olympia Tyner, clinic assistant for the Women, Infants and Children program at Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department, prepares Wednesday to weigh and measure 18-month-old Arely Lopez-Garcia. Arely’s mother, Maria Alicia Garcia, is pictured at left. The health department has cut 04,840 from its budget and raised fees.

? As debate rages in Washington over health care reform, thousands of Kansas children will become eligible, starting today, for low-cost health insurance because of an expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.

“This is a significant opportunity for Kansas families who can’t afford private health insurance for their children,” said Andy Allison, acting executive director of the Kansas Health Policy Authority.

SCHIP is a federal-state program that provides health coverage to uninsured children whose families earn too much to qualify for Medicaid. In Kansas, the federal government provides about 72 percent of the funding and the state provides the other 28 percent. In November, 39,447 Kansas children were enrolled in the program.

Under the new rules, the eligibility limit for the Kansas SCHIP program will increase from 200 percent of the federal poverty level to 250 percent. That translates to about $44,000 a year for a family of three or $53,000 a year for a family of four.

A family with children in SCHIP pays between $20 per month to $75 per month, depending on income.

Kansas lawmakers authorized the expansion in 2008, subject to additional federal funding becoming available. That federal funding became available in 2009 when Congress and President Barack Obama expanded SCHIP. Then the Kansas Legislature approved $1.2 million to cover the state’s share of the expansion.

“Improving children’s health is a top priority for everyone, and one of the most important steps in accomplishing that is to make sure children have access to affordable coverage so they can get the care they need,” Allison said. “This expansion will make that easier for thousands of working families who either can’t afford or don’t have access to private insurance.”

In addition, KHPA was recently awarded a five-year, $40.3 million federal grant that will be used to enhance outreach efforts and to acquire new technology that will improve and streamline the application process.