Governor Gregoire Will Sue Federal Government Over SCHIP

For Immediate Release: October 1, 2007

Gregoire and Gov. Spitzer (NY) say that rule change was illegal; other states to join suit

OLYMPIA – Governor Chris Gregoire today announced that the state of Washington, along with several other states, will file a lawsuit against the federal government to ensure that Washington children continue to have affordable access to health care. The suit is in response to a letter from the Bush administration, which arbitrarily imposed new eligibility rules that prevent states from expanding the SCHIP programs that provide health care for children.

“In Washington, we know that taking care of our kids not only makes good economic sense, but it is the right thing to do,” said Governor Gregoire. “The federal government should continue to be a partner, rather than a roadblock, to our children’s health.”

At stake is the health of 4 million children nationally who remain uninsured. Under the new rules, Washington and other states would be prohibited from offering them health care.

Congress created SCHIP, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, in 1997 as a bipartisan measure to provide health care for children, with funding split between states and the federal government. By providing preventative care and avoiding more expensive emergency room visits, SCHIP has been successful in keeping kids healthy and saving money for the state.

The lawsuit comes as a $35 billion bill to expand SCHIP arrives on the President’s desk after being passed by overwhelming bipartisan majorities in Congress. The bill would expand health care coverage from 6.6 million children to more than 10 million children of the working poor, and would be funded by an increase in cigarette taxes. President Bush has vowed to veto the bill.

The new federal rules which are the subject of the lawsuit were adopted without the support of Congress and without going through the standard administrative rulemaking process. The rules forbid states from offering health care to a child unless the child has already been without healthcare for at least a year, and would require states to meet participation thresholds for the poorest children before allowing children from families with slightly higher incomes to access health care. Whether the rules themselves were adopted by valid procedures is one question posed by the lawsuit.

Governor Gregoire, along with the governors of 29 other states, previously requested by letter that the harsh new rules be rescinded. Under state legislation enacted this year, Washington would expand eligibility for SCHIP to include families with incomes up to three times the federal poverty level. The federal poverty level is $20,650 for a family of four. The new federal rules would prohibit Washington from implementing the state legislation and would leave many Washington children without access to health care.

Washington will be joined by New York, Maryland, and Illinois in filing suit to challenge the new requirements. Arizona, New Jersey, New Hampshire and California have expressed their intention to file supportive amicus briefs.

“Congress has worked hard over the past several weeks to put together a bill that is in the best interests of our nation’s children,” said New York Governor Eliot Spitzer. “States have been working together to do the same – making sure our children get the health care they need. It should be a powerful and compelling message when the U.S. Congress, States, and the nation’s citizens are so clearly committed to ensuring that families have access to affordable health care for their children.”