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Originally published June 23, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified June 26, 2007 at 2:27 PM

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Health-care law will cost more

A measure that would provide subsidized health-care coverage to 10,000 more children in Washington will cost $15 million more than predicted...

OLYMPIA — A measure that would provide subsidized health-care coverage to 10,000 more children in Washington will cost $15 million more than predicted, state officials say.

State Sen. Joe Zarelli, of Ridgefield, Clark County, the top Republican on the Senate budget-writing committee, said the $45 million program, offset by $19 million in new federal money, will also pay for medical treatment and health coverage for a large number of illegal immigrants — a potentially detrimental effect for poor families that are U.S. citizens.

"This is a program that mostly benefits kids of illegal-immigrant families," Zarelli said Thursday at a meeting of the Caseload Forecast Council, a group of lawmakers and governor's cabinet members.

Zarelli predicted in March that the cost would be higher than what Democrats forecast when the Legislature passed the law.

Of the $45 million, $12 million will be spent on citizen children who were previously uninsured. About $8 million will be spent on U.S. citizens who are already covered by other insurance programs. And $25 million will be spent on non-citizen children.

Victor Moore, director of the state Office of Financial Management, said more children are eligible for the program than originally estimated.

"We didn't think there would be this many," he said. "But now we know more kids will have health-care coverage."

The net impact on the state budget is $6 million a year, Moore said.

Gov. Christine Gregoire's adviser on health-care issues said the purpose of expanding the program is to help as many poor children as possible, regardless of their citizenship.

The new law allows a family of four with an annual income of as much as $62,000 to qualify for state-subsidized health coverage.

Democrats, including Gregoire, have set a goal of providing access to health care for all children by 2010. They have said the cost will be offset by $30 million in savings from fewer emergency-room visits that the state otherwise would have to pay for.

An estimated 635,000 children younger than 18 who come from low-income families will have access to coverage by mid-2009, according to the governor's office. That includes children covered by Medicaid, the state's Basic Health Plan and two other state-subsidized programs.

Roger Gantz, a policy adviser for the state Department of Social and Health Services, said the higher numbers came to light after the Legislature adjourned and officials were trying to figure out how to reach children who became newly eligible for health coverage.

State officials learned they already had information about many families whose children had earlier been denied coverage because their parents made too much money or because they were not citizens, Gantz said. Many of them are brothers and sisters of children who already receive state medical coverage but who previously were denied coverage because their siblings are citizens and they are not, Gantz said.

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