By Sandy Alexander
WASHINGTON – President Clinton’s $50 billion proposal to expand state children’s health insurance programs could help close an enormous gap in coverage for low-income parents in Maryland, say advocates in the state.
Clinton proposed the “Family Care” program during the State of the Union address Thursday as part of a broader plan that he said would result in the largest health care investment in 35 years.
The Family Care program would give states more federal money to help them enroll low-income parents in the same programs as their children who qualify for Medicaid or State Children’s Health Insurance programs. Clinton’s plan would also help states work with employers to enroll families in private health care plans.
Advocates said extending coverage not only makes for healthier parents, but healthier families, since insured parents are more likely to make sure the family uses preventive services. Insured parents can also avoid illnesses that can interfere with work.
“Children do not come in single units; children come in families,” said Carol Fanconi, director of health for Advocates for Children and Youth.
The White House says that there are about 6.5 million parents nationwide whose children qualify for state-assisted insurance programs but who do not themselves qualify because they earn slightly too much. Often, the parents either do not have access to employer-based insurance for themselves, or they lack the money to pay for it.
States can currently extend insurance coverage to such parents, said Steve Bartolomei-Hill, director of the nonprofit Maryland Budget and Tax Policy Institute. But he said the federal government only matches the state funding. Clinton’s plan to boost funding should make it more attractive for Maryland policymakers to expand the program, he said.
Maryland had no problem expanding health care coverage for children once the federal government offered more funding, said Bartolomei-Hill.
“It’s great to have more options for states, and we welcome the additional federal funding,” said Debbie Chang, Maryland’s deputy secretary for health care financing.
But “it’s not law yet,” she said, stressing that her office is busy enrolling as many children as possible in the current program, which extends health care coverage to children whose families earn up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level. The state has been aggressively adding kids to that program since it began in July 1998.
State lawmakers are currently considering legislation that would expand eligibility for the Maryland Children’s Health Insurance Program to include children whose families earn up to 300 percent of the poverty level. Gov. Parris Glendening is focused on that proposal, but broadening the program to include parents would also be “a positive move,” said an aide.
“Healthy parents tend to make healthy children,” said Raquel Guillory, Glendening’s deputy press secretary.