VIRGINIA: Abortion Issue Key In Kiddiecare Approval
Ending a "six-week standoff between state and federal officials," Virginia yesterday won the Clinton administration's approval for its Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that the impasse, which "ultimately turned on payment for some teen abortions," was reconciled "after high-ranking conservatives in Congress," namely Rep. Thomas Bliley (R-VA), "traded concessions with the Clinton administration on the abortion issue." Commenting on the possibility of a "political deal," Virginia Health and Human Resources Secretary Claude Allen said, "Governor [James] Gilmore [R] and Virginia have a lot of friends in Washington who were very interested in seeing Virginia's plan move forward" (Martz, 10/23).
Let's Make A Deal
Yesterday's Wall Street Journal reported that the Kiddiecare compromise came as part of the Clinton administration's effort to secure Senate confirmation of Dr. Jane Henney's nomination to be the new FDA commissioner. In a letter to Senate Majority Whip Don Nickles (R-OK) addressing Henney's nomination, Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala "said that states' new health insurance programs for children didn't have to include abortion services for teenagers" (Sharpe, 10/22). Shalala's Oct. 15 letter "appears to reverse the Health Care Financing Administration's policy that Medicaid 'look-alike' plans, such as Virginia's [Kiddiecare plan], must pay for abortions in cases of rape, incest and when the mother's life is endangered," the Times-Dispatch reports. However, federal officials "deny they have shifted their abortion policy and say Virginia changed its plan" to meet their criteria. Federal officials say Virginia "blinked in the standoff by changing it plan to a 'benchmark' program based on Virginia's state employee health insurance plan." Allen maintains that Virginia did not modify its plan, the Times-Dispatch reports (10/23). The Washington Post reports that Virginia's Kiddiecare plan "covers only abortions that are necessary to protect the life of the mother" (Timberg, 10/23).
More Is More
While the reasons Virginia's Kiddiecare program was approved may be debated, the federal go-ahead means thousands of uninsured children can start receiving health care Monday. Bliley said the program "goes into effect immediately, and because it is being run by Virginia officials, it will be run correctly" (Times-Dispatch, 10/23). "This is a major victory for the children of the Commonwealth. Approval of our plan is gratifying, and now we can act to provide much-needed health care insurance for the children of Virginia," he said (Washington Post, 10/23). Virginia officials said the state could receive as much as $88 million in federal funds, allowing it to serve as many as 63,000 children. Federal officials estimate the state is eligible for about $68 million, which would cover 54,000 children by the year 2000 (Times-Dispatch, 10/23).
The Few, The Proud
Virginia is one of a handful of state's that is creating a Kiddiecare program separate from Medicaid, called the Virginia Children's Medical Security Insurance Plan. The first component of the plan will offer free coverage for children up to age 19 whose families earn less than 150% of the federal poverty level. The second component, which will begin at a later date, will provide coverage -- at a small cost -- for children in families earning between 150% and 185% of the poverty level (HHS release, 10/22). The Roanoke Times reports that Gov. Jim Gilmore's (R) office "released a statement noting that the percentage of uninsured children is small, and highlighting the fact that people who already pay for health insurance won't be able to just drop their policies and get a freebie from the government." Information and applications for the program can be obtained by calling 887-VA-CMSIP (Heyser, 10/23).