Casey says Pa. children's insurance money in jeopardy

By Kimberly Hefling, The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Just as Pennsylvania plans to expand its government-subsidized health insurance program for children, Sen. Bob Casey said Tuesday that the president's budget is a potential stumbling block.

Pennsylvania is awaiting federal approval to become the second state to expand its children's health insurance program, with the goal of insuring all children without coverage. Already, it is one of 18 states that insures families earning 235 percent of the federal poverty level — about $47,000 for a family of four.

Under the budget that President Bush sent to Congress on Monday, the funding would be limited to kids at or below 200 percent of poverty, in order to target resources to the nation's "neediest children."

Casey, D-Pa., said the budget contrasts with many states' efforts to cover more children.

"It's a huge problem for the country, and just at a time people are hopeful about Pennsylvania, this proposal by the administration runs counter to that," Casey said.

Rosanne Placey, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Insurance Department, said the agency is paying attention to Bush's proposal to determine implications for the program.

"We remain hopeful that Congress will weigh in appropriately on this," Placey said.

Gov. Ed Rendell last fall signed the bill — dubbed "Cover All Kids" — that expanded health-care coverage to uninsured children. The new law provides partially subsidized insurance for families earning up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level — about $60,000 for a family of four — and institutes a sliding monthly premium based on ability to pay.

Nationally, the State Children's Health Insurance Program provides coverage to about 6 million people, and costs about $5 billion annually.

The president's budget asked for an additional $4.2 billion in funding over five years. But Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, has said it may take as much as $15 billion over the same period to maintain current health insurance coverage.