ANNAPOLIS – A new law that will provide medical insurance for 60,000 children and pregnant women from low-income families will likely undergo significant changes in just its second year of operation.
The Children’s Health Insurance Program, passed with fanfare this year as a big win for Gov. Parris Glendening, will change in July 1999 to resemble the House of Delegates’ version of the bill.
The compromise was reached quietly in a conference committee on the bill, after House leaders threatened to push for a large reduction in the total number of new recipients, said a spokesman for the governor.
The law, signed April 28 by Glendening, extends Medicaid coverage to families whose income is up to twice the federal poverty level. In the first year of the plan, the state will directly pay premiums for all families enrolled in the plan.
But that could change on July 1, 1999, when the House formula for funding those benefits could kick in, under the compromise reached.
After that date, the state would no longer pay the premiums for new recipients earning 185- to 200-percent of the poverty level — or about $28,000 to $35,000 a year. Instead, those families would likely get a subsidy from the state to apply toward their employer’s health insurance so they could add their children to that coverage.
Families whose incomes fell below 185 percent of the poverty level would continue to receive direct payments for new coverage.
Modifications made next year would not affect recipients enrolled in 1998. And House language that would have restricted state-funded abortions was not included in the final compromise version of the law.
Since the program uses federal funds, the law and the proposed 1999 changes are contingent on federal approval of the plan, which is expected.
Glendening had originally opposed the House plan because he believed a more-complicated distribution process would cost extra money that could go directly to paying premiums, said Joe Bryce, the administration’s chief legislative officer.
But Del. John Hurson, D-Montgomery and one of the bill’s chief sponsors in the House, said the adjustments will ultimately prove cost-effective and lessen dependency on the state.
“You’re really trying to encourage private responsibility and parents taking care of their kids,” by instituting less state involvement in higher-income brackets, Hurson said.
He pointed out that a revised 1999 version would have a safety net for families in the 185- to 200-percent range whose employers do not offer “proficient,” comprehensive medical coverage. In such instances, the state would pay for new coverage for the child.
Sen. Paula Hollinger, D-Baltimore County, said she was satisfied with the compromise as long as it succeeded in enrolling everyone who qualified.
Hollinger worried that parents who qualify within the higher-income bracket could get shut out of the new program if they cannot first afford coverage for themselves.
“If you look at the rising costs, I don’t know where we’re going to be in a year from now,” Hollinger said.
Once the program has federal approval, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene will begin distributing information in public schools to notify low-income families that they might qualify, said department officials.
Edward Wollman, chief of the DHMH division of eligibility services, said the state will also enroll children in the state- run Kids Count program — which only offers medical coverage to very young children — in the new program. It will also extend the new Medicaid coverage to their siblings, he said.