Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Obama's gift to Washington: $17.6 million and heartburn

Posted on Tue, Dec 28, 2010 at 12:12 PM

Last year, Washington state lowered the number of uninsured kids in the state from 4.6 percent to 3.4 percent, thanks to a program called Apple Health for Kids, which helps about 700,000 kids get access to health care. Because of this, it was announced yesterday that the state received $17.6 million from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Right on time.

You may remember that earlier this month Gov. Chris Gregoire proposed eliminating the Basic Health program, which provides subsidized health care to about 66,000 needy people. Additionally, her budget proposal would kick thousands of children who might be in the country illegally off state insurance rolls. All of this was part of her effort to plug the $4.6 billion budget deficit.

The good news comes with some tough decision making. The almost $18 million in unexpected cash is unrestricted, meaning it can be used by the state in any way it wants. But activists are pushing her to reinvest in the Apple Health for Kids. According to the Tacoma News Tribune political blog, Gregoire has suggested she might eliminate the program to aid in her budget balancing.

And with many programs and pet projects on the line, many lawmakers are likely salivating at the new money.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, however, said in a statement she would like to see the money put back into Apple Health; "These bonus funds help us keep this successful program going in a tough budget environment," she said.

A total of $206 million was handed out to 15 states as part of an effort to increase health care access for uninsured kids. The program was authorized in February 2009 under the Children's Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act. The other states are Alaska, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon and Wisconsin.

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