Senate approves cuts to childrens health care program

Posted: Friday, April 11, 2003

JUNEAU (AP) The Senate approved legislation Thursday to save about $2.1 million next year by providing health care to fewer pregnant women and children.

The state estimates about 1,200 children and 120 women could lose state-paid health care under the bill. That's because it would put tighter limits on how much money a family can make and still qualify for Denali KidCare.

Senate Republicans argued the current income limits 200 percent of the federal poverty level are too generous.

Sen. Lyda Green, R-Wasilla, said families making that much money should be encouraged to buy their own insurance.

That's certainly one of the calculations I would hope people would consider as a necessity, and not have the inclination to say that the state will pick this up if I don't take care of this,''' Green said.

But Democrats countered that private health insurance is too expensive for many families and provides limited coverage. They shared anecdotes about people who could not find policies that cover maternity care or a child's mental illness.

Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage, said without the state program, children won't get medical care until they're sicker, and they'll have to got to the emergency room, where costs will be four to five times higher.

We're taking a big step backward here today,'' French said.

Denali KidCare provides health care for children and pregnant women in families that make too much money to receive traditional welfare, but generally don't have health insurance through their jobs.

Under current law, a family of four making up to $45,996 a year can qualify for the program. Under Senate Bill 105, a family of four could only make $40,260 a year.

That would represent a decrease from 200 percent of the federal poverty level to 175 percent.

Sen. Gary Wilken, R-Fairbanks, said the state simply cannot afford to continue providing health care to so many people.

The number of children eligible for Medicaid, which pays for Denali KidCare, has risen from 38,000 in the 1999 fiscal year to 65,000 in the 2004 fiscal year, Wilken said.

We've got to do something about this Medicaid issue that's just eating us alive in our budget,'' Wilken said. We need to make rational plans that pass the pain to those who can best afford it.''

Republicans pointed out that Alaska Permanent Fund dividends are not included in the income limits, and that there is no asset test,'' meaning the value of a family's property and savings are not factored in.

The bill goes beyond what Republican Gov. Frank Murkowski recommended.

He had proposed freezing income limits at current dollar levels, so they would not rise with inflation. He did not propose actual cuts in the income limits.

Murkowski also proposed freezing the income level at which Alaskans can qualify for nursing home care or similar home-based services at $19,872 a year. The Senate did not change that part of the bill.

The measure also freezes eligibility limits for Denali KidCare, meaning the savings would grow over time as fewer people qualified for the program.

By 2009, the administration estimates the bill would save $7.1 million in state funds and $15.1 million in federal funds. It would provide health care to 205 fewer women, 2,014 fewer children and 50 fewer adults with serious enough health problems to require nursing home care.

The bill passed 12-7, along party lines. Sen. Georgianna Lincoln, D-Rampart, was absent.

It will next go to the House for consideration.

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