Assure health care to Hawaii's children


POSTED: Sunday, November 30, 2008





        The Lingle administration has indicated that a health care program for needy children that was halted might not need to be restored.

  A health-care program aimed at covering children in families that cannot afford insurance was abruptly halted a month ago after being discovered to be too broad. A temporary measure should be found to provide health care to those needy children until the Legislature can correct what the Lingle administration regards as flawed rules for qualification.

Gov. Linda Lingle signed into law the Keiki Care Plan after this year's legislative session to provide health care to an estimated 3,500 “;gap”; children whose families could not afford health insurance but did not qualify for Medicaid or the state's free Med-QUEST program.

However, rules that went beyond that limitation resulted in coverage of children who already had affordable health care. A total of 85 percent of the 2,021 children who entered the Keiki Plan had been covered previously by the Hawaii Medical Service Association's children's program at a cost of $55 a month per child. Fewer than 200 of the Keiki Plan children actually were gap kids.

The Lingle administration now suggests the program is unnecessary because Medicaid has been expanded to include families earning less than 300 percent of the federal poverty level. Also, Congress will be asked to renew and expand the Children's Health Insurance Program, which is due to expire March 31 after President Bush vetoed its renewal.

State legislators should review the Keiki Care Plan to determine if it reaches beyond coverage of gap children, as Lingle contends. People should not be offered free health care if they qualify for and can afford the HMSA children's program. If so, it should be amended in the upcoming Legislature to reflect what lawmakers claimed in the last session.

Families USA, a health-care consumers organization, rates Hawaii as having the fifth-lowest uninsured rate in the country, at 5.8 percent. The Hawaii Covering Kids project says only 4.9 percent of the state's 305,000 children were uninsured last year.