Cut in child health program faces opposition

Posted: Wednesday, February 13, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- A proposal to drop the number of Alaskans eligible for a state health insurance program drew fire Tuesday from health care providers and those who would be affected by such cuts.

Rep. John Coghill, R-North Pole, is sponsoring a bill to lower the income level at which families qualify for Denali KidCare -- a program that provides health insurance for kids and pregnant women.

Currently, people can qualify if their income is 200 percent of the federal poverty level for Alaska. Coghill said that means a family of four earning $44,160 a year would qualify.

That is too generous, he said, especially since the state is projected to have a billion-dollar budget hole this year and next and legislators are talking about raising taxes.

''Right now under the fiscal condition we're in, can we really afford to go down this road any further?'' Coghill asked.

Coghill proposes to limit the program to those making 150 percent or less of the federal poverty level.

Rynnieva Moss, an aide to Coghill, said under current requirements, people can also receive Native corporation dividends up to $200 and Alaska Permanent Fund dividends on top of the income limit. Income of stepparents also isn't calculated.

All those testifying before the House Health Education and Social Services Committee Tuesday opposed the change.

State Health and Social Services Commissioner Jay Livey said the 200 percent level was initially chosen based on the availability and relatively high cost of private insurance policies.

Making the change would cause 3,800 children and 722 pregnant women to lose coverage, he said. The change would save about $5 million a year, Livey said.

The federal government picks up 70 percent of the cost of the program for non-Natives and 100 percent of the cost for Alaska Natives.

Gay Wellman, testifying by teleconference from Glennallen for the Copper River Native Association, said Denali KidCare helps fund a fetal alcohol syndrome program there.

She also talked about her own family's trouble finding health care several years ago, despite making more than $44,000 a year.

Wellman said when they finally got a policy, they discovered the rates went up every six months and claims were covered at a very low level.

''The insurance that is available for families (becomes) really not affordable very quickly,'' Wellman said.

Families who already have insurance don't qualify for the program and have to wait 12 months to sign up if they drop their current coverage, Livey said.

Bob Labbe, director of the state Division of Medical Assistance, said a quality control review identified few cases of program applicants lying about whether they had other coverage in order to qualify for Denali KidCare.

The committee will continue taking testimony on the House Bill 367 on Thursday.

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