Tuesday, August 21, 2007
I am not sure why the President decided to issue these new standards for State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) late, last Friday (oh, wait - they look like they might be incredibly unpopular so perhaps he hoped no one would notice . . . ). The New York Times reports on the President's battle to prevent expanding the coverage of SCHIP:
The Bush administration, continuing its fight to stop states from expanding the popular Children’s Health Insurance Program, has adopted new standards that would make it much more difficult for New York, California and others to extend coverage to children in middle-income families. Administration officials outlined the new standards in a letter sent to state health officials on Friday evening, in the middle of a month-long Congressional recess. In interviews, they said the changes were aimed at returning the Children’s Health Insurance Program to its original focus on low-income children and to make sure the program did not become a substitute for private health coverage. After learning of the new policy, some state officials said today that it could cripple their efforts to cover more children by imposing standards that could not be met. . . .
The poverty level for a family of four is $20,650 in annual income. New York now covers children in families with income up to 250 percent of the poverty level. The State Legislature has passed a bill that would raise the limit to 400 percent of the poverty level — $82,600 for a family of four — but the change is subject to federal approval. . . . .
In the letter sent to state health officials about 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Dennis G. Smith, the director of the federal Center for Medicaid and State Operations, set a high standard for states that want to raise eligibility for the child health program above 250 percent of the poverty level. Before making such a change, Mr. Smith said, states must demonstrate that they have “enrolled at least 95 percent of children in the state below 200 percent of the federal poverty level” who are eligible for either Medicaid or the child health program.
Deborah S. Bachrach, a deputy commissioner in the New York State Health Department, said, “No state in the nation has a participation rate of 95 percent.” And Cindy Mann, a research professor at the Health Policy Institute of Georgetown University, said, “No state would ever achieve that level of participation under the president’s budget proposals.” The Congressional Budget Office has said that the president’s budget, which seeks $30 billion from 2008 to 2012, is not enough to pay for current levels of enrollment, much less to cover children who are eligible but not enrolled.
When Congress created the Children’s Health Insurance Program in 1997, it said the purpose was to cover “uninsured low-income children.” Under the law, states are supposed to make sure public coverage “does not substitute for coverage under group health plans;” but the law did not specify what states must do. In an interview today, Mr. Smith said: “The program was always meant for children in lower-income families. As states move higher up the income scale, it’s more likely to substitute for private coverage.”