WASHINGTON – Maryland could receive up to $61.6 million in federal money to provide health benefits to some of the state’s 168,000 uninsured children if officials come up with a program and matching funds by next year.
The $24 billion plan, which was signed by President Clinton in August, is the largest expansion of government-paid health insurance since the formation of Medicaid 32 years ago.
States can use the money to expand Medicaid, create a new program for children’s insurance or a combination of both.
State allocations were made based on the number of uninsured children in households whose incomes were no more than twice the poverty level, $32,000 for a family of four.
In Maryland, one out of 13 children – 100,000 – would be eligible. Their families earn too much to apply for welfare, but too little to pay for comprehensive private insurance, which can cost around $4,000 a year.
States that meet the federal standards can begin drawing funds immediately, but so far Missouri is the only state to submit a plan.
Maryland is “still in the very preliminary stages,” said Karen V. Poe, spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
The department has until next July to submit a proposal that must include a 35 percent matching grant, Poe said.
In the next month the department will hold town meetings across the state to come up with ideas and recommendations, said Deputy Public Health Secretary Georges C. Benjamin.
Maryland House Majority Leader John Hurson is optimistic a plan will be enacted next year and that the state will come up with its share of the matching grant.
“With a $200 million surplus, I think the governor will be able to find” the matching money, Hurson said. Maryland’s contribution would be $21.6 million.
Earlier this year, legislation by Gov. Parris Glendening that would have provided pre-natal and early infancy medical coverage to pregnant women and children in working families was killed in the Legislature.
The Senate-passed version would have extended coverage to single mothers earning $40,000 a year or less, and the House “felt that it was too generous given the set of circumstances,” Hurson said.
Poe said the health department has not decided whether to expand Medicaid or create a new program.
But Hurson said agency officials want to go the Medicaid expansion route, a move that he opposes. Hurson advocates a more “creative” approach.
“We could go out and create more school-based health clinics to serve adolescents … take care of parents who abuse drugs and alcohol in order to keep families together … and use the federal money to take care of special-needs kids,” he said.