My turn: Think of the children, support Denali KidCare

Posted: Monday, April 28, 2008

A s the dust settles from the 25th Alaska state legislative session, most people would agree that a significant level of funding was provided within the state's operating and capital budgets.

Unfortunately, there was one very important and relatively inexpensive item that did not pass during the session. The failed bill was SB 212, more commonly known as Denali KidCare. This program helps working families by providing Medicaid health care coverage for low-income children and pregnant women in Alaska.

Denali KidCare is part of a popular national program called the State Children's Health Insurance Program. The federal government pays for approximately 70 percent of the cost, which makes the program a good deal for states. Each state decides where to draw the line regarding who is eligible, income-wise, for the program. Sadly, the state of Alaska has drawn the line right at the bottom - we now have the fourth most stringent eligibility of any state in the country.

More specifically, eligibility for Denali KidCare is tied to the federal poverty level. SB 212 would have raised the eligibility level from 175 percent to 200 percent of the federal poverty level. At this level, 1,200 more children and 200 more pregnant women would have been eligible for Medicaid coverage. The total cost to the state for the program expansion would have been only $865,000.

There has been a groundswell of support for SB 212. Last month, 130 people attended a rally in Anchorage supporting the bill. Several hundred others from around the state signed a petition in support of Denali KidCare and SB 212. The Alaska Human Services Coalition, a group of more than 70 organizations statewide, advocated for the legislation. In addition, the Alaska Health Care Strategies Council, appointed by the governor, recommended that eligibility for Denali KidCare be raised to 200 percent of the poverty level. But the bill still did not pass.

Low-income children, pregnant women and working families were losers in this legislative session. Access to health care in our state and throughout the country is approaching a crisis level. Children who do not have health care coverage have much higher health risks and are four times more likely to use expensive emergency room care.

If you are as concerned as we are about this lack of action, here are some ways you can help. Contact the governor and ask her to take a leadership role in supporting Denali KidCare legislation; ask her to include SB 212 on the agenda for the upcoming special legislative session.

Contact your current representatives and senators to urge their support in the next legislative session. And remember there are several legislative seats that will be filled this fall. Ask your legislative candidates if they will support legislation to serve more children and pregnant women under Denali KidCare, and vote accordingly.

This is a serious issue. Please join us in educating the Legislature and the governor that health care for low-income children and pregnant women is a priority that cannot be ignored in our state.

• Walter Majoros is president of the Alaska Behavioral Health Association, and Jordan Nigro is president of the Alaska Association of Homes for Children.

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