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Published January 06, 2011, 12:00 AM

Bill increases eligibility for CHIP coverage

Would provide insurance for 1,320 more North Dakota children
BISMARCK – North Dakota Democrats want more children covered by health insurance.

BISMARCK – North Dakota Democrats want more children covered by health insurance.

Senate Bill 2135 was introduced Wednesday to allow about 1,320 more children to be eligible for the North Dakota Children’s Health Insurance Program.

The proposal would change eligibility from 160 percent of the poverty level to 250 percent. Under the proposal, a family of four making up to $55,125 per year would be eligible. With current rules, a family of four making up to $35,280 per year is eligible.

About 14,000 children are uninsured in North Dakota, said Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Fargo.

“We have the resources in our state. It is time that we cover our children,” said Mathern, a co-sponsor of the bill.

All states offer health insurance programs to cover children who do not have health insurance, do not qualify or are not fully covered by Medicaid, and live in lower-income families. Most of the cost is paid for by the federal government, with states picking up the rest.

“This program is for the working poor. Those people who have a job or two or three, but none of them offer health insurance,” Mathern said.

North Dakota has the lowest eligibility level in the nation, Mathern said. This is “particularly egregious” considering the state’s strong financial resources, he said.

By raising the eligibility level to 250 percent – which Mathern says is a national average – the state would receive $3.9 million in federal funds and need to spend $1.7 million in state general funds.

Rep. Lee Kaldor, D-Mayville, said the state does everything it can to leverage federal funding for highways and other programs and should do so for children.

“Nothing could be more important than to ensure our children’s health is improved and taken care of,” he said.

Sen. Judy Lee, R-West Fargo, said it’s unlikely there will be support to go to 250 percent. Lawmakers need to see how federal health care reform changes the children’s health insurance program, she said.

“We just have to see how all the numbers shake out,” said Lee, chairwoman of the Senate Human Services Committee.

About 3,700 children now benefit from the North Dakota Children’s Health Insurance Program, according to the state Department of Human Services.

Finneman is a multimedia reporter for Forum Communications Co.