Politics & Government

Kids health plan to get federal cash bonus

Just when Washington state's budget news couldn't get worse, it got slightly better. Details are due Monday on the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services' award of a bonus payment to this state's Apple Health for Kids program.

Spokesmen with the Children's Alliance advocacy group in Seattle have said the bonus could total several million dollars. If the amount is large enough, it would blunt or avoid Gov. Chris Gregoire's proposal to save $59 million next year by eliminating the program that gives subsidized insurance to 27,000 qualifying children in low-income families.

Washington's Democrat-led Legislature agreed several years ago to make health coverage available to all children in the state (with parents paying full cost above certain income levels) by year 2010. That goal was reached before the international financial crisis wiped away several billion in expected state revenues, which prompted Gregoire's proposal to bridge a $4.6 billion shortfall next year.

Jon Gould, deputy director of the Children's Alliance, first mentioned the possibility of a federal bonus payment a few weeks ago when Washington lawmakers were holding hearings in Olympia.

The federal CMS confirmed in a news release this week that on Monday it plans to award more than $200 million to 15 states that "cut through red tape and administrative hurdles to enroll significantly more uninsured children in their Medicaid programs than would have been enrolled otherwise."

This is the second year of the performance bonuses as provided in the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2009, according to CMS. More states are expected to receive funds this time.

The Children's Alliance released these comments about the expected aid for Washington:

"The federal government is recognizing the success of Apple Health for Kids by awarding the state millions of dollars in additional, flexible funding," said Jon Gould, deputy director of the Children's Alliance. "In the midst of a challenging economy, this performance bonus will allow the state to sustain a thoughtfully managed program for every child who qualifies."

"Thousands of Washington families have turned to Apple Health for Kids to make sure their children don't suffer," says Gould. "Without employer-based coverage, kids still need regular check-ups so that childhood illnesses don’t become lifelong health problems. Our effort to cover all kids made good sense in good times; it makes even better sense now."

"By simplifying its procedures and cutting red tape, the state is reaping a much-needed financial gain from the federal government," says Gould. "The performance bonus proves that Apple Health for Kids is not only popular and successful, but incredibly cost-effective. Apple Health for Kids is paying off now – just as it will pay off in the future, as healthy children grow into healthy adults."

More will be revealed Monday.