Eye On Olympia

More health coverage for kids on the way…

As curious preschoolers peered over the edge of the table (and one mugged for the camera), Gov. Chris Gregoire on Tuesday signed a new law that will provide health coverage to thousands more children in Washington.

The law will expand coverage to an additional 38,000 children and youths under age 19.

“It is our moral duty,” said Gov. Chris Gregoire. “ It is an economic necessity that we have a healthy next generation of Washingtonians.”

The price tag: about $60 million over the next 2 years. Half of that is state dollars; the rest is paid by the federal government.

The measure, sponsored by Sen. Chris Marr, D-Spokane, launches a new state-run health plan to cover children of families earning less than 250 percent of poverty level. That’s $50,000 for family of four.

Starting in 2009, coverage will expand to children in families living on less than 300 percent of poverty level, or $62,000 a year for the same family. Families earning $40,000 to $60,000 a year, however, would have to pay premiums for the coverage. If they can insure their children through employer-sponsored coverage, the state can help them pay those premiums.

“Today’s an important day for our kids,” said Marr. But he said it’s important that lawmakers and budget writers also follow through with other health measures, such as boosting state reimbursements for pediatricians who treat low-income kids.

Critics – mostly Republicans – were unhappy with what they see as an increasing shift to try to move people onto government-run health coverage.

They also argued that the plan is too generous, covering kids in families earning more than the median income in many counties. That, they argued, will hurt the private insurance market.

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