This Washington

Senate Undoes Commitment to Children's Health Care for All Kids, Advocates Say

By Josh Feit April 12, 2011

As everyone awaits the senate budget announcement today for the gory details, a sign of what's to come is already available in a bill that was introduced over the weekend; a bipartisan bill sponsored by Sen. Karen Keiser (D-33, Kent) and Sen. Randi Becker (R-2, Eatonville).

The bill  would jeopardize health care for about 25,000 kids—children who are undocumented immigrants and whose families make between zero and 300 percent of federal poverty level. Currently, this population of kids is covered under the state's Apple Health for Kids program, which guarantees health insurance for free or a minimal $20-to-$30 monthly premium per child for families that make between 200 and 300 percent of  the federal poverty level (or $44,000 to $67,000 a year for a family of four).

[pullquote]The proposal would increase the premium to about $100 per month for those making 200 to 300 percent of poverty level. The bill would jeopardize health care for about 25,000 kids.[/pullquote]

The Keiser/Becker proposal (Keiser is the chair of the health care committee) would increase the premium to about $100 per month for undocumented immigrant children whose families make between 200 and 300 percent of the federal poverty level. It would also cap the state expenditure on the program (to be determined in the upcoming budget), potentially creating a waiting list for kids.

"Children's health care needs don't change based on where they were born," says Jon Gould of the Children's Alliance. "We are undoing our commitment to all kids, no matter how they arrived in Washington State or where they were born."

Apple Health Care, passed by the legislature in 2007, established a program that guaranteed coverage for all kids below 300 percent of the federal poverty level; this proposal jeopardizes that for all undocumented kids.

The house budget proposal also increases the premium payment for undocumented kids whose families make between 200 and 300 percent of poverty, but it does not put a de facto cap on enrollment.

Sen. Keiser tells PubliCola she's "not happy" with the budget negotiations, but this bill was "part of the deal to get this budget through."

She explains that, "the approach with the cap was to maintain the program ... to maintain infrastructure. We're trying to keep our commitment to all programs, the children's health plan [Apple Health for Kids], the Disability Lifeline, and the Basic Health Plan."

She said "as the economy improves we can lift the cap." That's not in the bill, but Keiser added: "Let's just say that's part of the deal."

We have a call out to Sen. Becker.
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