More than 167,000 Colorado children have no health insurance, and nine million children are uninsured nationwide. It’s a hot issue in Washington this week as two Democrats in the U.S. Congress introduced legislation that would expand funding for children’s public health programs. This happened just one day before the Urban Institute released a report saying federal funding for children’s programs is headed for a big slide over the next decade.
Sen. Hillary Clinton and Rep. John Dingell introduced the Children’s Health First Act, which would expand federal funding for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) by $50 billion over five years – double what President Bush has pledged.
SCHIP is currently funded by both state and federal money, the latter of which amounts to about $5 billion a year. The program covers children whose families earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but can’t afford private insurance. Nearly 50,000 children in Colorado are covered by SCHIP, but the proposed funding increase could help cover most of the 167,000 still uninsured.
SCHIP was created a decade ago as part of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 and will expire on Sept. 30 unless it is reauthorized by Congress. President Bush has pledged an additional $25 billion over the next five years for SCHIP, but the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured estimates an additional $13 billion to $15 billion is needed just to maintain current enrollment levels. The $50 billion in Clinton’s and Dingell’s bill would allow states to raise SCHIP’s income limits from 200 percent of the poverty level to 400 percent of the poverty level. States would also be encouraged to reach out to the estimated 6 million children who are eligible for SCHIP but are not enrolled.
In Colorado, families of four earning less than $40,000 and families of two earning less than about $26,000 are eligible for SCHIP. Pregnant women can also apply for coverage.
Uninsured children often don’t receive medical care. Nearly 28 percent of uninsured children in Colorado received no medical care whatsoever in 2003, compared to only 12 percent of insured children, according to a project of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The organization is sponsoring Cover the Uninsured Week April 23-29.