From the New York Times:
The Bush administration, continuing its fight to stop states from expanding the popular Children’s Health Insurance Program, has adopted new standards that would make it much more difficult for New York, California and others to extend coverage to children in middle-income families.
Administration officials outlined the new standards in a letter sent to state health officials on Friday evening, in the middle of a monthlong Congressional recess. In interviews, they said the changes were intended to return the Children’s Health Insurance Program to its original focus on low-income children and to make sure the program did not become a substitute for private health coverage.
After learning of the new policy, some state officials said yesterday that it could cripple their efforts to cover more children and would impose standards that could not be met.
“We are horrified at the new federal policy,” said Ann Clemency Kohler, deputy commissioner of human services in New Jersey. “It will cause havoc with our program and could jeopardize coverage for thousands of children.”
Stan Rosenstein, the Medicaid director in California, said the new policy was “highly restrictive, much more restrictive than what we want to do.”
The poverty level for a family of four is set by the federal government at $20,650 in annual income. Many states have received federal permission to cover children with family incomes exceeding twice the poverty level — $41,300 for a family of four. In New York, which covers children up to 250 percent of the poverty level, the Legislature has passed a bill that would raise the limit to 400 percent— $82,600 for a family of four — but the change is subject to federal approval.
California wants to increase its income limit to 300 percent of the poverty level, from 250 percent. Pennsylvania recently raised its limit to 300 percent, from 200 percent. New Jersey has had a limit of 350 percent for more than five years.
As with issues like immigration, the White House is taking action on its own to advance policies that have not been embraced by Congress.
In his budget in February, President Bush proposed strict limits on family income for the child health program. Both houses of Congress voted this month to renew the program for five years, but neither chamber accepted that proposal. Legal authority for the program expires on Sept. 30.
The administration’s new policy is explained in a letter that was sent about 7:30 p.m. on Friday to state health officials from Dennis G. Smith, the director of the federal Center for Medicaid and State Operations. The policy would continue indefinitely, though Democrats in Congress could try to override it.
The Children’s Health Insurance Program has strong support from governors of both parties, including Republicans like Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota and Sonny Perdue of Georgia. When the Senate passed a bill to expand the program this month, 18 Republican senators voted for it, in defiance of a veto threat from Mr. Bush. The House passed a more expansive bill and will try to work out differences with the Senate when Congress reconvenes next month.
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