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San Jose Mercury News
Tuesday, January 28, 2022

1,700 Sign for Health Coverage Tobacco Tax Funds Free Insurance

By Laura Kurtzman

With the help of $6.4 million in tobacco tax money earmarked for Bay Area children's health programs this year, about 1,700 children have enrolled so far in San Mateo County's new free health insurance program -- one-tenth of the children estimated to be uninsured in the county.

San Mateo's Healthy Kids program is modeled after a 2-year-old program in Santa Clara County, which serves 12,300 children and has stoked a statewide movement for universal health care for children. The program is also being emulated in San Francisco, Solano and Los Angeles counties.

Because of San Mateo County's high cost of living, the program will insure children in families that earn up to four times what the federal government defines as poverty. For a family of four, the limit is $72,400. The program began Jan. 1 with $2.3 million from San Mateo County's tobacco tax commission and $5.4 million from other sources. Officials hope the program ultimately will insure 14,600 children.

The health programs do not require that children or their parents be legal residents.

In Santa Clara County, children in families that earn up to three times the poverty level are eligible. For a family of four, the limit is $54,300.

The children's health programs are funded partly through Proposition 10, the 1998 voter-approved measure that placed a 50-cent tax on cigarettes.Other money is coming from private groups. "What's going on in the Bay Area is exceeding my wildest dreams,'' said filmmaker Rob Reiner, who led the Proposition 10 campaign.