By Reps. Tina Orwall and Mia Gregerson
Washington lawmakers see that children’s health coverage must be a top priority, that’s why in 2007 the Legislature passed the Apple Health for All Kids program. Today, 840,000 children throughout the state have comprehensive coverage, including medical, dental, vision and mental health.
While Apple Health provides insurance, it also helps keep kids healthy by encouraging the coordination of care through a primary provider, which results in higher quality care. The program also invests in outreach to find and enroll eligible families, and supports nutrition and exercise in schools.
Children with family incomes up to 312 percent of the federal poverty level, who don’t have access to another source of health insurance, are eligible to buy into Apple Health coverage at rates they can afford. Families earning below 210 percent of the federal poverty level do not pay any premiums for coverage.
But this successful program, which has expanded coverage for both low-income and moderate-income families, is at risk unless Congress acts quickly.
One of the funding sources for Apple Health is the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which currently ensures access to essential health care services for more than 50,000 kids. This has helped drop the rate of uninsured children in our state to a historic low of 2.5 percent. Unfortunately, Congress did not re-authorize CHIP funding by the program’s Sept. 30 deadline. The state has been relying on reserve funding from the federal agency in charge of Medicaid to keep the program afloat.
If Congress doesn’t reauthorize funding for CHIP by the end of the year, the state will not be able to continue providing health coverage for all kids. In King County alone about 12,000 children will lose coverage.
Apple Health for Kids and CHIP have enjoyed bipartisan support over the years because you don’t have to be a Democrat or a Republican to realize that keeping kids safe and healthy is the right thing to do and makes economic sense.
It’s the right thing because healthy children learn better, grow better and have a better chance of succeeding in life. And it makes economic sense because the costs of neglecting regular health care or caring for uninsured children in emergency rooms far exceed the costs of providing insurance.
During the last decade, our state Legislature has worked hard to protect the advances gained through Apple Health for Kids. Even when there were extreme pressures to make cuts to balance the budget, this priority has remained intact.
The current climate in D.C. could make this year’s federal budget process contentious. Congress shouldn’t play politics with our kids; reauthorizing CHIP should be a clear priority. Washington state’s children are counting on them.