HEALTHY FAMILIES: Children’s Health Insurance Program Wins Federal Approval
California got a "green light" from the federal government yesterday to go ahead with its plan to provide health insurance coverage to 600,000 children -- 100,000 in the next year and as many as 500,000 within three years, the Los Angeles Times reports (Healy, 3/25). The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that the Healthy Families program, which is scheduled to begin this summer, will cover families between 100% and 200% of the federal poverty level. Under the program, "[p]arents with children between the ages of 1 through 18 will be able to choose coverage from among the health insurance plans currently offered to state workers, including health, dental and vision care." The Union-Tribune reports that "[i]n addition to the 580,000 children estimated to be eligible for Healthy Families, more than 400,000 more children are expected to be added to the Medi-Cal rolls through the advertising and outreach plan" scheduled to inform families around the state about the new insurance options (Mendel, 3/25).
Wilson Vs. Shalala
The Sacramento Bee reports that "[f]inal approval came after state and federal officials resolved several issues, including how much to charge enrollees for doctor visits and prescription drugs" (3/25). The San Francisco Chronicle reports that federal approval comes "despite a dispute with Gov. Pete Wilson over how to run" the program and over who will pay for immunizations for the enrollees. The Clinton administration "reaffirmed last week" that it will not cover immunizations administered through the Healthy Families program because federal law requires children to be uninsured in order to qualify for free vaccines. It also had "objections to California's proposal to offer several health care plans -- with low-income participants required to pay substantially more for the best plan." However, the Chronicle reports the administration has "signaled" that the state's low-income children "may still be able to get steeply discounted vaccines if the state channels the federal money through a separate state agency" (Russell, 3/25).
The Buck Stops Here
While the immunization funding issue remains unresolved, Shalala said of the program, "It's a good investment for everyone in California in terms of long-term health of Californians. What is better than having healthy children?" She also called the program "a very good deal for California financially" because it provides one dollar for every 50 cents California provides, while the current Medi-Cal plan is a one-for-one match. The Department of Health and Human Services' approval of the state's Children's Health Insurance Program could bring California "as much as $855 million in federal funds" for the fiscal year ending September 30. California becomes the sixth state to receive federal approval for its Kiddiecare plan, but it becomes the largest recipient by far of a share of the $24 billion allocated by last year's balanced budget plan (Los Angles Times, 3/25). "The approval of California's CHIP plan is the biggest step we have taken so far to meet President Clinton's goal of providing health insurance to children who need it," said HHS Secretary Donna Shalala (HCFA release, 3/24). The California Healthcare Association praised the administration's approval of the Healthy Families Program and said they would work with the administration and the state to implement the program (CHA release, 3/24).