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September 04, 2007

Children’s Health Coverage Seen at Risk

At a time when several states and both houses in Congress are pushing to expand a children’s health-insurance program partially financed by the federal government, the Bush administration’s new guidelines restricting enrollment have drawn criticism from school officials and health advocates, who warn that children will lose access to insured medical care.

The $25 billion-a-year State Children's Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP, is intended for children in families that earn too much to be eligible for Medicaid but may find it hard to afford private health insurance.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in an Aug. 17 letter, told states that they cannot enroll children from higher-income families—those with income above 250 percent of the federal poverty line—unless the states can prove that 95 percent of their poorest children are already covered through Medicaid or SCHIP.

Though the letter is described as clarifying existing regulations, some state officials see it as new policy and an attempt to circumvent the efforts by states and Congress to expand the program. The 95 percent enrollment target for the state’s poorest children is impossible to meet, they contend.

As a result, many children will remain uninsured, school health officials argue—and that could affect schools by weakening student preparedness for learning and increasing the need for services.

“The more kids that are covered, the more kids are likely to come to school without chronic health-care problems and ready to learn,” said Bruce Hunter, the associate executive director for public policy for the Arlington, Va.-based American Association of School Administrators, whose organization supports the congressional proposals to expand SCHIP coverage.

Without insurance of their own, many families also come to rely on schools for services, said Donna Mazyck, the president of the National Association of School Nurses, based in Silver Spring, Md. “School nurses are sometimes the only health-care provider a student regularly sees,” she said. “We definitely see the importance of students’ having a regular primary- care provider.”

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Posted by healthinsurance at September 4, 2007 12:02 PM

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