Federal program vital to insuring the uninsured, legislators say

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The federally funded State Children’s Health Insurance Program has helped Minnesota maintain its low rate of uninsured residents.

Legislative leaders, health care advocates and the commissioner of human services held a press conference September 13 at the Neighborhood House in St. Paul to put pressure on Congress and the president to re-authorize the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. The federally funded program has helped Minnesota maintain its low rate of uninsured residents.

Minnesota Commissioner of Human Services Cal Ludeman said SCHIP funding is a vital part of the state’s efforts to reduce the ranks of uninsured people. “As we all know, rising health care costs continue to create challenges for families in this nation, but it is increasingly difficult for families with modest incomes, particularly those who are not offered insurance through employment,” said Ludeman who was appointed by Gov. Pawlenty in 2006. “We need SCHIP funding to help us maintain coverage for kids and families that are currently enrolled [in MinnesotaCare].”

State Sen. Linda Berglin, chairwoman of the Senate Health and Human Services Budget Division of the Finance Committee, said that the re-authorization needs to be done right. “We need to make sure that in the re-authorization, that we are not taking away health care from one group to help another group,” said Berglin, DFL-Minneapolis. “There are those in Washington these days who worry about whether state programs are undermining private insurance. What they need to understand is that it is the high cost of health care that rises every year that is undermining private insurance.”

State Rep. Tim Huntley, chairman of the House Health Care and Human Services Division of the Finance Committee, praised Minnesota for its effort to insure its citizens, and urged Washington to continue a successful program.

“Minnesota has been the leader in having the lowest uninsured rate,” said Huntley, a DFLer from Duluth. “We are still the best in the country but we need to improve. Just this past session we did some expansions of MinnesotaCare that should lead to about half the uninsured kids in the state being picked up by MinnesotaCare. If we lose the SCHIP money then those things won’t happen. It’s very important to the state of Minnesota that SCHIP be re-authorized.”

In Congress, the House is looking to authorize $50 billion in new funding for SCHIP while the Senate is looking at $35 billion. The Bush administration has said the president will veto anything in excess of $5 billion, and it has added language that could adversely affect Minnesota’s programs in particular.

“We have used the money for families that are working but their income might be slightly above what other states are doing. The president is proposing that we not have that flexibility in covering those families,” said Huntley.

Minnesota, which received about $48 million for SCHIP for 2007, is not expected to receive more simply because of the effectiveness of our current programs, Ludeman said. Because the state insures so many otherwise uninsured through MinnesotaCare, there is less need.

Congress and the president have until Sept. 30 to re-authorize SCHIP for the funding to stay adequate.

“We hope our message is loud and clear. Re-authorize SCHIP, give us flexibility and increase the funding,” said Berglin.