After more than one year of waiting – and two vetoes by former President Bush – Congress is poised to approve a bill that will help California significantly increase the number of children with health coverage. The House and Senate have approved bills to renew, or “reauthorize,” the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) with a substantial funding increase. The differences between the bills are minor, so the final SCHIP bill should be ready for President Obama’s signature in February.
SCHIP reauthorization comes at a critical time for California, which uses these federal dollars – along with state funds – to provide health coverage for nearly 900,000 children through the Healthy Families Program, as well as for some children in Medi-Cal. Federal funding has not kept pace with Healthy Families enrollment and rising health care costs. In December, the state was on the verge of turning eligible kids away from Healthy Families for the first time in the program’s history, until the state First 5 Commission and dozens of county First 5 commissions came to the rescue with nearly $17 million to fend off an enrollment freeze. Additional SCHIP funds will help California reduce the number of uninsured children over the next few years. In 2007, more than half of uninsured kids in the state were eligible for Healthy Families or Medi-Cal, but not enrolled in either program.
One key provision in both bills would – for the first time – let states use federal dollars to cover legal immigrant children and pregnant women during their first five years in the US. California already uses state funds to cover these groups through Healthy Families and Medi-Cal, so this provision would cut the state’s costs by tens of millions of dollars each year as the state grapples with its perpetual budget crisis.
— Scott Graves