Gov. Janet Napolitano wants federal officials to rescind a new policy that would hamper her ability to expand government-subsidized health care for Arizona children.
Napolitano and 27 other governors contend the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services unfairly imposed new restrictions last month on federal funding for the State Children's Health Insurance Program. Those restrictions, in essence, limit the obligation of the federal government to pick up its 75 percent share of the cost when states want to provide coverage for children from families earning more than 250 percent of the federal poverty level. That comes to $51,625 a year for a family of four.
It also says states that want to expand coverage can’t enroll children who have had private insurance within the past year.
"The requirements amount to a unilateral restriction on state authority to provide health insurance for children,” the governors wrote.
For the moment, the new rules do does not affect Arizona.
The state provides coverage through its Kids Care program to about 65,500 children in families who are ineligible for free care because they earn more than the federal poverty level - about $10,650 a year for a family of four - but less than twice the poverty level.
Earlier this year, the Republican-controlled Legislature refused to even debate a proposal by the Democratic governor to boost eligibility to three times the poverty level.
Gubernatorial press aide Jeanine L'Ecuyer said Napolitano "is not going to pursue that idea as a specific legislative initiative next session.” But she said Napolitano wants all states, including Arizona, to have the flexibility to expand the program - perhaps if the 2008 election produces a lawmaking body more amenable to what the governor wants.
"God knows what will happen with our Legislature,'' L'Ecuyer said. But she said the state "may at some point need and/or want to make a change like that.''
That one-year waiting period demanded by the federal government also could be an issue: Arizona allows children to be enrolled in Kids Care if they have been uninsured for just three months.
The August directive by the federal Center for Medicaid and State Operations, was billed by Dennis Smith, its director, as ensuring that programs like Kids Care do not substitute for private insurance.
The letter from the governors of both parties is the latest squabble with the Bush administration over S-CHIP funding. That provides $3 for every state dollar to insure the children of families considered the working poor.
The administration wants to boost funding for the program by just $5 billion over the next five years. But Napolitano said it will take $14 billion in new dollars over that time just to maintain the program the way it exists in each state.