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Child Advocates Fight Cuts to State’s Health Insurance Program for Low-income Kids

Courtesy of The Children's Alliance

The fight to save Apple Health for Kids – Washington's fulfillment of its promise to provide health coverage to all children in the state – is back in the legislative boxing ring in Olympia.

Lawmakers in the state House and Senate have introduced biennial 2011-13 state budget proposals that would include severe cuts to the kids health care program – a program that put Washington on the map of progressive states when it comes to ensuring the health of children.

Last week the budget-building Senate Ways and Means Committee put forward Senate Bill 5929, a measure that would deny 2,600 children access to health coverage through Apple Health. The majority of those kids whose denied access come from immigrant families. According to the Children's Alliance, the state's leading child advocacy group, cutting kids off from the program is tantamount to "closing the door to check-ups, screenings and immunizations that prevent kids from developing lifelong health problems."

SB5929 would also force parents with kids in the program to pay a monthly premium. That, advocates says, will make it more difficult for the parents of the 123,000 low-income kids now participating in Apple Health to get their kids to the doctor.

Research shows that higher monthly premiums cause more kids to drop out of public insurance programs, leaving them vulnerable to illness and impacting even their ability to learn.

Seattle Children's Hospital is joining the Children's Alliance in pushing lawmakers to keep Apple Health for Kids funding at current levels.

Hospital officials say cuts proposed in Olympia would mean a loss of approximately $50 million to Seattle Children's over the next two years. Budget proposals put forward by both the state House and state Senate would limit access to emergency department care for Apple Health for Kids program participants.

The Senate budget proposal would limit each child to three emergency department visits annually for services the state defines as "non emergencies." Other visits would be left unpaid by the state. Some of the services defined by the state as "non emergencies" are in fact potentially life-threatening emergencies like hernias, diabetic comas, and convulsions from high fevers, hospital officials say.

Both House and Senate proposals would also increase the amount of uncompensated care Children's provides. Right now the hospital eats more than $100 million per year in uncompensated care.

A recap of the government's hospital related cuts can be found in a statement issued by the Washington State Hospital Association on the budget proposal.

Seattle Children's has vowed to to do "everything it can to prevent as many cuts as possible to protect children."

Both organizations are encouraging parents and those who care about children's health to help protect for Apple Health for Kids by contacting your legislator and voicing your concerns.

To read the Senate bill report on SB 5929, click here: Washington State Bill Information 

To view public comment on SB5929 in the Senate Ways and Means Committee, go to TVW.org and search for “1087.”

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