Doll, Dems push child health care

Increased coverage would add up to 3,000 children to Denali KidCare

Posted: Sunday, February 18, 2007

Juneau Rep. Andrea Doll is pushing a bill that would allow more poor children to get state-provided health care. She's got bigger goals than that, however.

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She'd like to see health care for everyone.

"I don't know if this bill itself will be an incremental step toward that, but it is an expression of our conviction," said the freshman Democrat.

At a press conference in the Capitol last week, Doll joined Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, and Sens. Hollis French, D-Anchorage, and Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, in presenting what Wielechowski called the "No Child Left Uninsured Act." It is expected to be introduced Monday.

The bill would increase eligibility for Denali KidCare up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level from the current 160 percent.

For a single parent and child, that would move the income limit from $26,000 a year to $34,000 a year, Wielechowski said.

That will make health care available for children whose parents are working but don't have health insurance.

"If you don't have available health coverage, we're going to provide it to you," Gara said at the press conference.

The increased coverage likely would add between 1,500 and 3,000 children to the 7,600 presently covered, Wielechowski said.

No costs have been estimated yet for the bill, but the federal government likely would pick up 70 percent of the cost. A co-pay also would be required for higher income enrollees.

In addition, supporters say, there would be cost savings elsewhere - such as for emergency room visits by uninsured children.

"These costs are passed on to all Alaskans," Wielechowski said.

Doll said the bill would ensure that every child had coverage available, whether or not their parents could afford it.

"When children are born, they don't choose their parents," she said.

The bill has won support from AARP. Many AARP members enjoy health-care coverage through Medicaid, and their grandchildren should as well, said John Luby, legislative lobbyist for the group.

AARP is the state's "largest organization of grandparents," he noted.

Juneau representatives have long sought universal health care, Gara said.

He said two other Juneau Democrats, former Reps. Jim Duncan and Fran Ulmer, who is also a former lieutenant governor, tried unsuccessfully to move the state toward coverage when they were in office.

Doll said they may have been ahead of their time.

Nationally, things have gone as they are going in Alaska, she said. A plan supported by Hillary Clinton for universal health care went down in flames during the administration of Pres. Bill Clinton.

Doll said a Republican administration and advocates of private health care are moving the country toward acceptance of government solutions to the funding crisis.

"They've been taking away social programs. A lot of it hasn't worked, and there has been a lot of suffering," she said.

• Pat Forgey can be reached at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.



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