- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The nation’s Medicaid directors yesterday told the Bush administration that its new restrictions on the federally funded State Children’s Health Insurance Program will limit the number of children covered.

In a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Michael O. Leavitt, the National Association of State Medicaid Directors said the new standards reduce flexibility, making it difficult for states to expand coverage.

“The reality of the situation is the insurance market is withdrawing from covering kids,” said David Parrella, chairman of the National Association of State Medicaid Directors. “At least, that is the case in the small-employer market with dependents.”

The administration wants to return the decade-old program to its original scope: covering low-income children.

The Democrat-led Congress is moving to override the new standards and cover families earning several times the national poverty level. Democrats say a country as wealthy as the United States should better care for its children.

Republicans accuse Democrats of trying to shift the nation toward socialized health care.

Under the restrictions imposed by the administration, states that want to expand coverage to families with income exceeding 250 percent of the federal poverty level must show that they have enrolled 95 percent of eligible children in families making far less money. The federal government has set the poverty level for a family of four at $20,650.

In addition, states must prove that the number of children insured through private health plans has not decreased by more than 2 percent over a five-year period.

The primary concern for the Medicaid directors is the 95 percent threshold.

“We think that most states cover between 70 percent and 80 percent of the eligible children,” said Frank Solomon, a spokesman for the Medicaid directors. “Therefore, the 95 percent threshold would be very difficult for most states.”

The administration, however, released a report showing only nine states have not met that threshold.

House and Senate negotiators are expected to begin working out the differences between their bills this week. The president has threatened to veto both versions.

SCHIP, which covers about 6 million children, expires Sept. 30.

Seventeen states and the District of Columbia offer health insurance through the program to children in families with incomes above the 250 percent threshold. Those states, including New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and California, would lose federal funding under the new standards.

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