Medical aid expansion proposed Uninsured children, pregnant women would get basic care

$5.5 million cost projected

Glendening's plan must be approved by General Assembly

December 04, 1996|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

Moving to mend holes in the health-care safety net, Gov. Parris N. Glendening is expected today to propose giving government-financed medical coverage to thousands of uninsured children and pregnant women in Maryland.

The governor's proposal would provide basic health insurance for more than 5,000 children age 3 and younger, and about 1,000 expectant mothers, according to sources familiar with the plan.

The coverage would be offered to uninsured children and pregnant women from families earning up to 250 percent of the federal poverty level -- about $38,000 for a family of four.

The initiative would give Maryland one of the most far-reaching ,, insurance programs for pregnant women and young children in the nation.

The plan would cost the state an estimated $5.5 million annually, sources said -- money that would be diverted from other health department programs.

The insurance proposal is the latest of a string of Glendening initiatives that could strain the state budget. Last month, he proposed a 10 percent cut in Maryland's personal income tax rate, which would cost the state about $440 million in lost revenue annually when fully enacted in four years.

He also has proposed offering free tuition at state public colleges for good students, at an eventual cost of roughly $40 million a year.

In his health care plan, the governor wants to expand medical coverage for children and mothers in the so-called "gray area" -- those who work and make too much money to qualify for Medicaid but whose jobs do not provide health insurance.

The proposal, which would have to be approved by the General Assembly after it reconvenes next month, won kudos from health care advocates yesterday.

"The preventive care is what kids need -- diagnostic tests, eyeglasses, hearing aids," said Bobbi Seabolt, the lobbyist for the Maryland chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. "Those are the things that really make a difference for kids."

Medicaid, the state-federal insurance program for the poor and disabled, insures some 230,000 children from low-income families in Maryland. But about 140,000 children in the state do not have health insurance, according to advocates.

To provide basic coverage for some of the children who don't qualify for Medicaid, the state started its "Kids Count" program in October 1993. It provides primary care and preventive medical services such as immunizations, lead-poisoning screening, vision care and doctors' visits for eligible children.

Hospital and emergency room services are not covered.

As now established, Kids Count is expected to insure about 7,000 children this year at a cost of $1.5 million, with the federal and state governments chipping in.

Children under age 4 qualify for Medicaid or Kids Count coverage if their family's income does not exceed 185 percent of the federal poverty level.

Glendening's proposal would extend eligibility to pregnant women and children under age 4 from families whose income reaches 250 percent of poverty.

The poverty level was $15,509 for a family of four last year. At that level, Glendening's proposal would insure members of families with incomes reaching roughly $38,750.

Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, chairwoman of the Senate budget committee, applauded the governor's goal of insuring more fTC children.

But she said the state must do more to publicize the program and draw in more eligible families.

"That's always been a problem," Hoffman said. "It's good to do it, but I think it would be good also to do some outreach to make sure people take advantage of it."

In a recent interview, state health Secretary Martin P. Wasserman declined to discuss details of Glendening's health care initiative, but said the administration would like to find ways to prevent childhood medical problems.

"When we talk about giving more children access to the health care system, that's what we think will keep children healthy," Wasserman said.

Nationally, groups such as the American Academy of Pediatrics have pushed for years to expand health insurance for children.

The Clinton administration, which pushed unsuccessfully in 1994 for a plan to provide universal health insurance, has recently indicated it would like to provide coverage for the 12 million people under age 21 who are uninsured nationally.

Pub Date: 12/04/96

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