Thousands of Arizona children of the working poor will lose their health insurance within two years if President Bush gets his way on the federal budget, Gov. Janet Napolitano warned Monday.
Bush wants to increase funding for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program over the next five years by $5 billion, bringing total spending over the period to about $30 billion. He has threatened to veto anything with a larger price tag.
But Napolitano said Bush’s proposal is really a hit to states like Arizona.
“The president can say it’s an increase,” said Napolitano, newly returned from the annual meeting of the National Governors Association. “But it’s effectively a cut,” she said, one that would mean the state would have to drop some of the 64,000 youngsters in the program.
Napolitano said it will take $14 billion over the next five years just to maintain the program in each state at current levels.
The program, called Kids Care in Arizona, provides virtually free insurance to children in families with income between $20,000 and $40,000 a year for a family of four.
The federal government provides about $3 for every state tax dollar.
Napolitano favors a U.S. Senate proposal to boost funding over the next five years by $35 billion, financed by hiking the federal tax on cigarettes by 61 cents a pack, to a dollar.
She said that would not just cover inflation-related costs but provide cash for the state to enroll up to 56,000 more children in the program.
The governor convinced the Legislature earlier this year to eliminate a “gag rule” in state law which has prevented Kids Care from promoting the program at schools. Napolitano said this will help the state reach children in families who are eligible but do not have insurance.
She said that won’t happen if Bush vetoes the bill. In fact her budget staffers predict an increase of just $5 billion will mean the state will have to cease coverage for some of those 64,000 youngsters within two years.
That $14 billion figure just to keep pace with medical inflation comes from the Congressional Budget Office. But Mike Leavitt, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, has said the administration disagrees with that figure.
Funding for the entire program is set to expire on Sept. 30. But Napolitano predicted Congress will approve a temporary extension if there is no deal by that time.