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Child Advocates: “State Flexibility Act” = More Uninsured Children


Monday, May 23, 2011   

FRANKFORT, Ky. - Children's advocates in Kentucky are worried that a measure now in Congress would drive up the number of children without health insurance.

The State Flexibility Act would repeal protections put in place for states to maintain current eligibility and enrollment requirements for Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program known in Kentucky as K-CHIP, according to Lacey McNary, deputy director of Kentucky Youth Advocates.. She says these efforts have eased the burden on families to get and stay enrolled.

"Children who in Kentucky are up to 200 percent of the poverty level can enroll, and they're eligible for K-CHIP. In order to save some money, the state could say, 'We're only going to cover kids up to 150 percent of poverty' - thus, covering less children and saving money."

McNary calls the measure a shortsighted tactic which will yield short-term savings.

"Kids are still going to be sick. Kids are still going to need coverage. So, it's not like that's going to change. They just won't have the benefit of having health coverage paid for."

Nearly half of Kentucky's children rely on government-supported health insurance. By recent estimates, McNary says, the average monthly enrollment in K-CHIP is 60,000 and for Medicaid more than 386,000.

"It's been proven that K-CHIP is a very successful program to get kids covered. This bill basically is a permission slip for governors to reduce coverage for kids, to balance the budget."

Research shows that, nationwide, the Children's Health Insurance Program has reduced the number of uninsured children by almost a third, providing coverage to more than 7 million low-income children. McNary shudders at the possible outcomes of retreat.

"By scaling this back and rolling back the successes, you're going to be transferring the cost to families, to hospitals, to other people who are going to have to cover that cost. You're shifting the burden: state budget to families."

If the federal government relaxes eligibility provisions, an estimated 14 million children nationwide now covered by either Medicaid or CHIP could be at risk of losing health coverage. Supporters of the measure say states need more control in managing those programs as they grapple with growing budget shortfalls driven heavily by Medicaid spending.

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