As the federal budget battle heats up, we must ensure that the children of Washington state do not become a casualty. A decade ago, our state adopted the Cover All Kids legislation, making a commitment to ensure that every child here has health coverage. Today, we have an historic low uninsured rate for Washington kids. But a significant funding source that enables us to accomplish this coverage, the federal Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), is set to expire at the end of September. We urge our Congressional delegation to protect the progress we’ve made by re-authorizing funding for CHIP.
When we led the effort in the legislature and signed Cover All Kids into law in 2007, it had bipartisan support. Likewise, CHIP was enacted with support on both sides of the aisle in 1997 and is administered at the state level. Children’s health is a priority on which both Republicans and Democrats agree. It would be irresponsible to entangle it in politics. As we mark the 10-year anniversary of Washington’s groundbreaking Cover All Kids law, let’s celebrate its achievements. As of 2015, less than 2.6% of Washington’s children are uninsured. The law created a single coverage program known as Apple Health for Kids, providing comprehensive coverage, including medical, dental, vision, and mental health. Apple Health provides this coverage for more than 840,000 Washington kids, including 27,303 kids in Thurston County.
The program has expanded coverage for both low-income and moderate-income families. Low-income families who earn below 210% of the federal poverty level do not pay any premiums for coverage. Families with incomes up to 312 percent of the federal poverty level, who don’t have access to another source of health insurance and often can’t afford market rate plans, are eligible to buy into coverage at rates they can afford.
Beyond coverage, the law works to ensure that children will be able to see a doctor, encourages high quality care through a medical home, invests in outreach to find and enroll eligible families and supports nutrition and exercise in schools.
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It would be unacceptable to go back to the way it was prior to adoption of Cover All Kids, with 15,000 kids on a waitlist to access coverage and caps on the number of kids who could access coverage in specific programs, among other significant barriers. As a new school year gets underway, let’s renew our commitment to ensure the health and well-being of all Washington children. This is a success story that Washington State has worked hard to create. Whatever Congressional fights may emerge during federal budget negotiations, our children deserve to win. Our Congressional delegation can make that happen by championing the re-authorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
Frank Chopp is the Speaker of the Washington State House of Representatives (2002-present), and was instrumental in championing the Cover All Kids legislation. Lisa Brown served in the state legislature for 20 years, in both the House and Senate, from 1993 to 2013. She held the position of Democratic Senate Majority Leader and was instrumental in championing the Cover All Kids legislation. Christine Gregoire served as Governor for Washington State from 2005 to 2013 and signed the Cover All Kids legislation into law.