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December. 5, 2007
The Almanac

Kids' health care access improves in county, but threatened by D.C.

By Marion Softky
There's a real good news-bad news scenario playing out for low-income kids in San Mateo County.
The good news is that San Mateo County's Healthy Kids insurance program has reduced the number of uninsured kids under 18 years old from 17,000 to 3,000 between 2001 and 2005, according to the California Health Insurance Survey. That reduces the percentage of uninsured children in the county from 4.3 percent to 1.9 percent.
The bad news is that wrangling in Washington could end up killing a major national children's health insurance program (SCHIP), which supports low-income children across the country — including 9,400 in San Mateo County.
Congress has just days before Christmas recess to resolve a huge number of issues — including the fate of SCHIP. Congress failed — by 17 votes in the House of Representatives — to override President George Bush's veto of legislation renewing and expanding SCHIP.
Failure to renew the national SCHIP would be devastating, said Rose Jacobs Gibson, president of the county Board of Supervisors. These programs "play a vital role in helping our county's children receive the preventive and regular care they need to be healthy," she said.
Health gains
Children in San Mateo County enrolled in Healthy Kids, its locally funded health insurance program, have shown consistent and dramatic gains in health and well-being, according to a new study.

The study of Healthy Kids programs in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Los Angeles counties was conducted by the Mathematica Policy Institute; the University of California, San Francisco; and the Urban Institute.

Thanks to Healthy Kids, 90 percent of children in each county now have a regular source of health care, the study found. That represented an increase of 36 percent in San Mateo County and 45 percent in Santa Clara County, from the period 2001 to 2005.
Healthy Kids provides a third layer of affordable insurance for low-income families that don't qualify for other programs, explained Marmi Bermudez, county program manager for children's health coverage. State and federal Medi-Cal programs support the very-low income, and the federal SCHIP (State Children's Health Insurance Programs) funds California's Healthy Families programs.
Healthy Kids has enrolled 15,775 kids since it began in 2003, Ms. Bermudez reports. It is available to families with incomes up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level, or $82,000 a year for a family of four. The federal SCHIP tops at 300 percent.
"The vast majority of people utilizing our program earn far less. These are not wealthy people," said Supervisor Jacobs Gibson.
What next?
If SCHIP is not re-authorized, 9,400 kids in San Mateo County would not have health care, said Ms. Bermudez. A total of 830,000 children in California would lose insurance, she said.
Healthy Kids would not be as immediately affected as the kids enrolled in Healthy Families, because it is funded from different sources. But it could be hit, too, Ms. Bermudez said.
It's anybody's guess whether the Democratic majority in Congress will be able to keep the popular program alive in some form. This could involve: finding a compromise acceptable to the president; passing a bill with a veto-proof majority; or passing a continuing resolution that would extend the current law.
Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Menlo Park, is a staunch supporter; she co-sponsored the bill that was vetoed. In a statement before the veto vote, she said, "There are 10 million reasons to insure the children of our nation because 10 million children don't have health care coverage today."