Battle brews over child health care

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(Host) A battle is brewing between the nation’s governors and the Bush Administration over an expansion of health care programs for children.

And to the frustration of Vermont officials, the future funding of the state’s Catamount Health Care plan for uninsured adults has become tangled up in the debate.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) At first glance, it might not seem like there’s a strong connection between these two programs. But Administration Secretary Mike Smith says they’ve become unexpectedly linked together.

(Smith) “This is Washington logic. I don’t think the two should be connected but they simply are in Washington. And I have to use that sort of illogical Washington logic!”

(Kinzel) Here’s the connection. The Bush Administration wants to cap eligibility for a number of federal health care programs at 200% of poverty levels.

For an individual this is roughly 20 thousand dollars – for a family of four it’s about 40 thousand dollars.

That’s why the Administration is opposing a plan, backed by a bipartisan group of governors and senators, to expand Medicaid health care coverage for children to 300 % of poverty levels.

That’s also the reason why the Bush Administration has rejected a waiver request from the state of Vermont. The state wants to use federal funds to help finance Catamount Health Care coverage, beginning this fall, for adults up to the 300% poverty level.

Smith is very disappointed that the Bush Administration has taken this position:

(Smith) “To me that’s just ridiculous. Washington needs to show some leadership in terms of health care in this country. And if they’re not going to show the leadership then get out of the way and let the states do it because the states are the ones that are really being progressive about health care reform.”

(Kinzel) The National Governors’ Association on Monday concluded its summer meeting by sending a letter to the President urging him to support higher eligibility levels for the children’s health care program.

Governor Jim Douglas serves as the vice chairman of the NGA’s Health and Human Services committee. He says he strongly disagrees with the President on this issue:

(Douglas) “I don’t know what the right number is but it’s certainly well in excess of what the Administration has proposed.”

(Kinzel) Douglas says the Bush Administration’s rejection of the state’s waiver for Catamount Health is disappointing because Vermont has a unique agreement with the federal government. The deal caps the state’s Medicaid budget in return for greater flexibility in using these resources:

(Douglas) “We had a deal with the federal government to cap our Medicaid expenses for a five year period and I really believe it’s incumbent upon them to grant us this waiver request.”

(Kinzel) Douglas says he’s committed to the current eligibility levels for Catamount Health and he says the Administration will have to discuss additional funding options with lawmakers if the waiver rejection becomes final.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel, in Montpelier.

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