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Public Statements

Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions - S .264

Location: Washington, DC

Jan. 30, 2003

By Ms. CANTWELL (for herself and Mrs. MURRAY):

S. 264. A bill to amend title XXI of the Social Security Act to extend the availability of allotments to States for fiscal years 1998 through 2000, and for other purposes; to the Committee on Finance.

Ms. CANTWELL. Mr. President, I rise today to introduce the Children's Health Protection and Eligibility Act. I am delighted to be joined on this bill by my good friend, Senator PATTY MURRAY. Senator MURRAY has been a champion for children's health issues throughout her career in the Senate. This important legislation addresses the allocation of budgeted but unspent SCHIP funds that are currently out of reach of States and, under current law, are scheduled to be returned to the Federal treasury. This legislation also helps those States with the highest unemployment rates use more of their SCHIP dollars to provide health insurance coverage for low-income children.

Washington State is in the middle of an economic crisis resulting from a downturn in both our aviation and high-tech sectors. With the jobless rate at seven percent, we have one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. 214,300 Washingtonians are unable to find work. And just over the last month, our State has lost 2,946 jobs, and over 50 percent of those are in the high-paying manufacturing sector.

In 2000, before the recession began, there were 780,000 uninsured people in Washington State, including 155,000 children. That number has surely grown as the economy has worsened and our population has risen. In fact, in October, the Census Bureau reported that the number of uninsured increased for the first time in two years. Sadly, there are 41.2 million people nationwide without health insurance, 8.5 million of whom are children.

The increasing number of uninsured isn't the only problem facing the health care system. Last September, the Kaiser Family Foundation reported the largest increase in health insurance premium costs since 1990, while the Center for Studying Health System Change found that health care spending has returned to double-digit growth for the first time since that year.

The lack of health insurance has very real consequences. We know that the uninsured are four times as likely as the insured to delay or forego needed care, and uninsured children are six times as likely as insured children to go without needed medical care. Health insurance matters for kids, and coverage today defrays costs tomorrow.

Five years ago, Congress created a new $40 billion State grant program to provide health insurance to low-income, uninsured children who live in families that earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford private insurance. In most States, the State Children's Health Insurance Program, SCHIP has been extremely successful. Nearly one million children gained coverage each year through SCHIP and, by December 2001, 3.5 million children were enrolled in the program.

Unfortunately, however, not all States have been able to participate in this success, and perversely, the States that have been left out are those that had taken bold initiatives by expanding their Medicaid programs to cover low-income children at higher levels of poverty. Sadly, the recession and high unemployment means that the health insurance coverage we do have for children, pregnant women, and low-income individuals is in jeopardy due to State budget crises.

Washington State has been a leader in providing health insurance to our constituents. We have long provided optional coverage to Medicaid populations and began covering children up to 200 percent of poverty in 1994, three years before Congress passed SCHIP.

When SCHIP was enacted in 1997, most States were prohibited from using the new funding for already covered populations. This flaw made it difficult for Washington to access the money and essentially penalized the few States that had led the nation on expanding coverage for kids. This means that my State only receives the enhanced SCHIP matching dollars for covering kids between 200 and 250 percent of the Federal poverty level. Washington has been able to use less than four percent of the funding the Federal Government gave us for SCHIP.

Today, Washington has the highest unemployment in the country, an enormous budget deficit, and may need to cut as many as 150,000 kids from the Medicaid roles. Because it is penalized by SCHIP rules and cannot use funds like other states, Washington State is sending $95 million back to the federal treasury or to other States. This defies common sense, and I do not believe that innovative States should be penalized for having expanded coverage to children before the enactment of SCHIP.

This is why we are introducing the Children's Health Protection and Eligibility Act. This bill will give States the ability to use SCHIP funds more efficiently to prevent the loss of health care coverage for children. This bill targets expiring funds to States that otherwise may have to cut health care coverage for kids. States that have made a commitment to insuring children could use expiring SCHIP funds and a portion of current SCHIP funds on a short-term basis to maintain access to health care coverage for all low-income children in the State. The bill also ensures that all States that have demonstrated a commitment to providing health care coverage to children can access SCHIP funds in the same manner to support children's health care coverage.

First, as my colleagues know, 1998 and 1999 state allotments "expired" at the end of fiscal year 2002 and are scheduled to be returned to the Federal treasury. Our bill allows States to keep their remaining 1998 and 1999 funds, and use these funds for the purposes of this legislation.

Second, unused SCHIP dollars from the fiscal year 2000 allotment are due to be redistributed at the end of fiscal year 2002 among those States that have spent all of their SCHIP funds. Our bill would allow the retention and redistribution of these funds as was done two years ago through the Medicare, Medicaid, and SCHIP Benefits Improvement and Protection Act P.L. 106-554. However, under our bill, States that had an unemployment rate higher than six percent for two consecutive months in 2002 would be eligible to keep all of their unspent 2000 SCHIP allotment.

Third, at State option, for certain Medicaid expenditures, qualifying States would receive the difference between their Medicaid Federal matching assistance percentage, or FMAP, and their enhanced SCHIP matching rate. This temporary measure would be paid out of a State's current SCHIP allotment to ensure children's health care coverage does not erode as States face enormous budget deficits. States would be able to use any remaining funds from fiscal years 1998, 1999, and 2000 SCHIP allotments, plus ten percent of fiscal 2001, 2002, and 2003 allotments.

Finally, our bill allows States that have expanded coverage to the highest eligibility levels allowed under SCHIP, and meet certain requirements, to receive the enhanced SCHIP match rate for any kids that had previously been covered above the mandatory level.

Children are the leaders of tomorrow; they are the very future of our great Nation. We owe them nothing less than the sum of our energies, our talents, and our efforts in providing them a foundation on which to build happy, healthy and productive lives. During this tough economic time, it is more important than ever to maintain existing health care coverage for children in order to hold down health care costs and to keep children healthy. I urge my colleagues to join us in support of this bill.

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