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Governor Gregoire Signs Legislation to Give More Children Access to Health Care

For Immediate Release: March 13, 2007

OLYMPIA – Governor Chris Gregoire today signed into law a measure she requested to provide health insurance coverage to an additional 38,000 Washington children, bringing the total number of low-income children covered to 624,000.

“Healthy children learn better, grow better and have a better chance of succeeding in life,” said Governor Gregoire. “We will continue to deliver on our promise to cover all kids because it is a moral duty and an economic necessity that we have a healthy next generation.”

Governor Gregoire has made it a priority to provide health insurance access to all Washington children by 2010 and, since taking office, has steadily added more children to the health insurance rolls.

Senate Bill 5093 provides expanded access to health insurance for children who live at or below 250 percent of the federal poverty level, currently $50,000 for a family of four. Beginning in 2009, access will be expanded to include children who live at or below 300 percent of the federal poverty level, or $62,000 for a family of four.

The bill goes beyond merely providing insurance to include additional provisions that will help keep kids healthy.

“This bill is not just about getting children insurance – it takes a comprehensive approach to health care for our kids,” said Governor Gregoire. “We are making sure children have a medical home, and that we tie our dollars to performance measures and pay for quality care.”

The new law tells parents that they have a responsibility to get their children insurance and encourages healthy lifestyles. It also directs the Department of Social and Health Services to create a seamless program to provide affordable health coverage for lower income children under the age of 19.

“Under our current system, we pay more for less effective health care,” said Sen. Chris Marr (D-Spokane), the bill's prime sponsor. “This will give these kids the coverage they need, when they need it, and we'll save money in the process.”

“If you do the math, there are 744 Washington children without health care for each lawmaker in the House of Representatives,” said Rep. Judy Clibborn (D-Mercer Island), the bill’s House sponsor. “Some people believe that number is too high. I disagree. I believe that number should not exist. This bill will help make that happen.”

The bill will make health insurance easier to get with one standard application and targeted outreach to inform parents and find children who are eligible. It also establishes future goals for all school districts to have school health advisory committees to support healthy food choice and physical activity.

The real costs of uninsured children far exceed the costs of providing insurance because children without health coverage eventually receive care from emergency rooms or other safety net providers, where the cost of care is more expensive. By providing children with necessary preventive care, routine check-ups and early medical services, children will stay healthier and the state will avoid the additional costs of emergency care.

Health insurance is available through four programs (Medicaid, the State’s Children’s Health Insurance Program, the Children’s Health Program and the state Basic Health Plan) for Washingtonians until they reach age 19.

The bill passed the Senate with 38 votes and passed the House with 68 votes.