Gregoire says she'll sue if White House limits children's health care
Gov. Christine Gregoire said today she's prepared to sue the federal government if the Bush administration doesn't back away from restrictions...
The Associated Press
OLYMPIA — Gov. Christine Gregoire said today she's prepared to sue the federal government if the Bush administration doesn't back away from restrictions on children's health care.
More than 8,000 Washington children could be affected by the outcome, the governor said. The state is officially on record as pledging to help cover all children by 2010, and that can't happen without Uncle Sam's financial help and maximum flexibility for the states, she said.
Congress and the White House are negotiating terms for reauthorizing the State Children's Health Program this week. The states and the federal government share the cost of covering many children, but the program expires this week unless Congress and the president agree on new legislation.
Gregoire said she's baffled by the president's refusal to expand the program, and upset at the administration's new restrictions on the states. She said she's asked the state attorney general to prepare a possible lawsuit.
Gregoire told reporters today that none of Washington's children risk getting kicked off, but that the state won't be allowed to enroll about 8,100 additional children unless it prevails.
The new two-year state budget has money for about 38,000 new enrollees. Coverage is free for the very poor and will be available, starting in 2009, on a sliding scale to families who earn up to 300 percent of the poverty level, about $62,000 a year for a family of four.
The state covers about 1.3 million people, including public employees, the working poor and people who qualify for Medicaid. The state covers 544,000 children and youths. An estimated 73,000 children still have no coverage.
The Bush administration has resisted the states' efforts to expand coverage beyond 250 percent of the poverty line, seeing it as a backdoor way to move to government-run universal health care.
The governor released a letter she sent to Mike Leavitt, federal secretary of health and human services, complaining about the agency's unilateral decision to add new restrictions. Examples: Children could be covered only if they've been without health care for one year, and states would have to cover 95 percent of their poorest children before expanding into families with more income.
"We hope that the federal government continues to be a partner, rather than a roadblock, to our children's health," Gregoire wrote.
Sixteen states, including Washington, may have to shave back their kids' health programs, and some, not including Washington, will actually have to drop some children who are currently enrolled, she told reporters.
She said the lawsuit is "not my choice, not my preference," but may be the only answer. Other states may collaborate, she said.
Gregoire said she's pushing hard for approval of the Senate's version of the reauthorization legislation. She said she's told the state's congressional delegation, "Draw a line in the sand on this one."
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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