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Alaska editorial: Alaska should help uninsured children

Posted: Thursday, July 30, 2009

Alaska needs to get with it. Other states are showing us up with their commitment to paying for health insurance for children in working families, even as the recession hurts state budgets. Earlier this year, Congress and President Obama significantly increased funding for the State Children's Health Insurance Program. States contribute funding to the program, though the federal government pays for most of it. The program covers children and pregnant women whose families earn too much for them to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford their own insurance.

Since the federal government increased its contribution this year, at least 13 states have expanded their programs to cover 250,000 more children, the New York Times has reported.

The states made decent health insurance for working-class children a priority even though 48 states faced budget shortfalls, said the Times.

Our state budget is better off than most due to oil tax revenues. Even so, Alaska, with one of the stingiest children's health insurance programs, did not see fit to expand it. A bill to do so passed the Senate but could not get out of the House Health and Social Services Committee co-chaired by Wasilla Rep. Wes Keller.

Rep. Keller says he is "opposed to increasing the government's role in children's health and social welfare to a level that diminishes the role of parents." That doesn't make sense. In no way does offering health insurance to children take away from parents' roles. The parents can choose to take the help or not. The government insurance gives children a healthier start in life, period.

Obviously, the leaders of most states don't feel like they've diminished parents' roles, or they wouldn't be supporting more generous insurance than is offered by Alaska's government.

Most states at least include children and pregnant women in families earning twice the federal poverty rate - in Alaska, that would be $45,780 for a family of three. Many states go even further and offer the subsidized government health insurance to those making as much as three times the poverty rate.

Alaska only covers children and pregnant women in families earning up to 175 percent of the federal poverty rate, or $40,057.

With other states ponying up even though their finances are tight, Alaska has no excuses.



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