- The Washington Times - Monday, August 4, 2003

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — Advocates for poor families say several thousand children could lose state-supported health care as a result of spending cuts imposed during the 2003 legislative session to keep the state budget balanced.

“I don’t think the citizens of Maryland want the budget to be balanced by having children go without health care,” said Carol Fanconi, health policy director at Advocates for Children and Youth. “We should rethink this.”

Starting Sept. 1, the state will begin collecting a $37 monthly premium per family from parents of about 6,000 children who previously received free comprehensive health care.

The health department estimates about 3,000 children will leave the program because parents will not be willing or cannot afford to pay the $37-a-month premium. That would save the state $18 million.

In addition, program enrollment for families with income between 200 percent and 300 percent of the poverty level — a maximum of $55,200 for a family of four — will be frozen. No new families can sign on, and the state expects about 30 percent of the children in this program will lose benefits at an estimated savings of $609,000.

Families making less than 185 percent of the federal poverty level — $34,040 for a family of four — will not be affected by the changes.

Stacy Taylor, who lives in Brooklyn in Anne Arundel County, said she doesn’t know how she would have managed without the children’s health care program when her son, Jaymie Giddings, 14, began complaining of sharp leg pain. She took him to several doctors before one found the cause: a large cyst that eventually would have shattered the boy’s right femur.

Mrs. Taylor holds down two part-time jobs to supplement her husband’s $570 weekly earnings. She said she couldn’t have afforded medical treatment, including three MRIs (magnetic resonance imagings), that were required to diagnose her son’s problem. Bills, not counting the July 15 surgery, totaled more than $9,000.

“I don’t know what we would have done without [insurance]. There’s no way we could have covered that,” Mrs. Taylor said.

Nelson Sabatini, Maryland health secretary, said he has no choice but to comply with budget cuts approved by the legislature this year. He said it is the responsibility of parents to pay the premium and re-enroll children in the health care program.

“It is not our role to take total ownership of everyone’s problems,” Mr. Sabatini said.

Parents who decide not to pay the $37 a month are missing out on one of the “most generous health packages available,” he said.

Advocates for families argue that children will suffer as a result of budget cuts.

“We are taking a giant step backwards,” said Frances Phillips, health officer for Anne Arundel County.

Health officials in Howard and other counties fear that children who no longer have state-sponsored insurance will overrun county medical clinics.

Mr. Sabatini said the administration opposed the legislature’s cuts to health care, but “we do have to live within our means.”

State Sen. James Brochin, Baltimore County Democrat, has asked Mr. Sabatini to delay implementing the reductions in children’s health care programs until Feb. 1 when the legislature will be back in session.

“We made a mistake here,” Mr. Brochin said. “We need to own up to it and rectify it.”

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