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Federal law aids isle health care


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POSTED: Friday, April 03, 2009

Hawaii will save about $7.1 million annually while expanding free public health insurance to isle children under a new federal law.

The federal government will continue to support health coverage for those under age 20 with incomes up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level, said Barbara Luksch, director of Covering Kids, a Hawaii Primary Care Association project to enroll children in free public health insurance programs.

Additionally, federal funds will help pay for health insurance for kids and pregnant women with green cards already covered by the state, she said.

These are among benefits of an expanded Children's Health Insurance Program, vetoed by former President George W. Bush in 2007 and signed into law in February by President Barack Obama.

The national goal is to provide free health insurance for an additional 4 million children and youths, Luksch said.

She said states that wanted to increase income limits up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level for free public health insurance for low-income families were told no in the past. “;We were fortunate to be grandfathered in because we did it in 2006.”;

The state is covering 112,597 children and seeking to enroll others who are eligible under increased income limits, she said. Eligibility is based on household size and income. The 2009 gross monthly income limit for a four-member family is $6,342.

Federal funds also will be provided for public health insurance for children, youths and pregnant women with green cards who have lived legally in the United States less than five years, Luksch said.

In Hawaii they have been covered with state-only funds since July 2000 because they “;have gone through the process of coming here legally to become U.S. citizens,”; she said.

CHIP funding at a federal matching rate will save Hawaii $2.7 million annually being spent for health coverage for about 3,700 kids with green cards, Luksch said. And it will save another $4.4 million annually in state money spent on an average of 195 pregnant women with green cards each month, she said.

“;We're hoping with the $2.7 million we're saving, it may free up state funds to use for Keiki Care (for low-income families who do not qualify for the free health insurance programs), as well as enroll more children in health insurance programs,”; Luksch said.

Covering Kids has tried since last April to inform workers laid off from their jobs about the free children's health insurance programs, she said.

The state expects to share in $80 million to be awarded in federal funds for outreach programs, Luksch said. No matching state funds are required, but states must maintain existing outreach and enrollment efforts because the intent is to encourage new outreach activities - not to displace current state funding, she said.

The state also will receive an annual performance bonus provided as an incentive to enroll more low-income kids and youths in Med-QUEST programs, she said.

In other changes, she said:

» More federal money will be provided for state-contracted TeleInterpreters to help clients who do not speak English.

» Eligible kids can be enrolled in public health insurance while awaiting citizenship documents, which, Luksch said, “;will eliminate unnecessary paperwork barriers to enrolling eligible children and youths in Hawaii's programs.”;

» Babies born in American hospitals no longer need to provide citizenship and photo identification documents, which hospitals have had to supply with a Med-QUEST application. “;This is a waste of resources because the babies are obviously U.S. citizens,”; Luksch said.