States Mull Wider Eligibility for Kids’ Health Insurance Program
Several states are working to raise income eligibility limits for the State Children's Health Insurance Program, despite White House opposition, the AP/Long Island Newsday reports.
According to a survey conducted by Georgetown University's Center for Children and Families, 18 states already have received federal approval to offer SCHIP coverage to families with annual incomes greater than 200% of the federal poverty level -- the income threshold established when SCHIP began a decade ago. This year, five more states and the District of Columbia could extend coverage to families with incomes more than 200% of the poverty level, the center found.
California, Ohio and Oklahoma are considering significant expansions in SCHIP eligibility, and Florida and Oregon are considering modest expansions, according to the survey. In addition, New York recently raised the income threshold for its SCHIP to $82,600 annually for a family of four, with subsidies based on a sliding income scale.
Jocelyn Guyer, deputy executive director of the center, said, "State leaders are moving in a very different direction than the Bush administration," adding, "They see that even moderate-income families increasingly find that coverage is simply unaffordable, and that it's appropriate to have some subsidy."
However, Guyer said many states' plans depend on Congress passing legislation by this summer to give the states more money. Democrats have proposed providing $75 billion for SCHIP over the next five years, but the Bush administration has proposed less than half that amount.
In addition, legislation introduced last week in the Senate would let states expand coverage to families with incomes of less than 300% of the poverty level, AP/Newsday reports.
HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt said, "SCHIP is being proposed in the spirit of the expansion of health coverage. But that isn't the reality. For every 10 people that go on a publicly funded plan, six of them leave a private plan."
The Bush administration has said it wants SCHIP to provide coverage only for low-income families. According to Leavitt, 71% of U.S. children would be on "public assistance" if other states expanded SCHIP income eligibility limits to the levels adopted in New York.
Leavitt said all states should develop other plans to provide families with access to basic coverage. Although such plans might not offer the level of benefits some families would like, the policies would offer some protection, Leavitt said.
Leavitt noted efforts to expand coverage in Michigan that would pay as much as $35,000 annually for health costs and could provide coverage for up to 1.1 million state residents. Leavitt said Tennessee also is developing a "very basic" coverage plan that would cost $150 per month, with costs equally split between individuals, the state and employers (Freking, AP/Long Island Newsday, 4/29).