Program to target uninsured children Glendening hopes to use federal money to expand coverage

November 13, 1997|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Gov. Parris N. Glendening will take advantage of a new federal program to propose a significant expansion of Maryland's health coverage of uninsured children next year, administration officials said yesterday.

Up to $61.6 million in federal money will become available to Maryland this year under the federal Children's Health Insurance Program, which was created in the Balanced Budget Act of 1997. But to qualify for the full amount, Maryland would have to match the federal grant with about $33 million of its own money.

In a news briefing yesterday, Glendening aides said about 60,000 of the state's 168,000 uninsured children could qualify for insurance under the new program, which is intended to increase coverage of lower-income children who do not qualify for Medicaid.

Judi Scioli, the governor's press secretary, said Glendening will not necessarily seek the full amount available because it's not clear whether it could all be spent in a cost-effective manner the first year. "He's going to go for a program that maximizes the use of that money," she said.

But aides said the program Glendening will propose will be significantly larger than his $5.6 million "Thriving by Three" proposal, which failed in this year's General Assembly session.

"This is an absolutely unparalleled opportunity," said Dr. Martin P. Wasserman, the state Secretary of Health and Mental Hygiene. He said the federal program represents the first major influx of new federal money for health care in about 30 years.

Donna Jacobs, Glendening's deputy chief of staff, said the governor will not make decisions on the structure of the new program until after he takes part in a two-day summit on health care issues Monday and Tuesday in Baltimore.

tTC But Jacobs said the governor will be "absolutely unwavering" on a provision that pregnant women be included under the program. The state would have to pick up 50 percent of that cost, as opposed to 35 percent for the expanded coverage of children.

Testifying yesterday before a joint hearing of three House

committees in Annapolis, Wasserman warned that if legislators do not pass some version of a children's health insurance next year, the state could be worse off in terms of coverage.

Wasserman said the U.S. Health Care Financing Administration has notified Maryland that it will not renew the five-year agreement under which the state receives funds for a children's health program called Kids Count. That program, which will expire in September, provides limited health coverage to about 5,000 Maryland children.

Unlike Glendening's Thriving by Three proposal, which would have insured pregnant mothers and children up to age 3, the new federal program would allow coverage for lower-income children up to 19.

Maryland has a range of options for participating in the new program.

It could expand its current Medicaid system, establish its own system outside Medicaid, provide direct funding to service providers or cobble together a combination of approaches.

Wasserman said Glendening would make up his own mind on which approach to adopt, but the health secretary left legislators with little doubt of his own preference.

He said that during recent public hearings, more than 90 percent those who testified favored building on the state's current Medicaid managed care program. "They all felt that we should build upon our partnership and the progress we have developed so far," Wasserman said.

Pub Date: 11/13/97

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