Washington, Oregon in line for federal health-care funds

The federal money is intended to help uninsured people get coverage.

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Washington and Oregon are among 13 states to receive federal dollars for the expansion of health-care coverage for uninsured people.

On Thursday U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced $70.9 million in grants.

The grants are funded under the new State Health Access Program as part of the agency’s previous State Planning Grant program.

That program enabled many states to develop innovative plans that increased health insurance coverage for their uninsured residents, she said.

"These grants build on the success of the earlier program," and will help more states provide affordable insurance to uninsured groups such as children and seniors.

Grants were awarded through a competitive process. Washington state is in line for $1,228,042 and Oregon could receive $9,978,200, according to a press release.

In Washington, plans for the money call for a rekindling of a program to subsidize health insurance costs for employees of small businesses within the state, said Dave Wasser, spokesman for the Washington State Health Care Authority office.

That idea was pulled off the table in 2008 by the state’s looming budget crisis. "So the $1.2 million grant will help us get the program back in order."

His office just learned of the award earlier this week and time will be needed to reconfigure plans and see if the new program will look like the 2008 prototype, Wasser said.

He is hopeful of some answers by the end of this month. Criteria for getting the money, however, requires states to have programs operational a year from now.

The grants, to be made over a 5-year period, require a 20 percent match unless a state demonstrates a financial hardship. In addition, states must show that they are able to sustain the program after federal funding has expired. The impact and results of state projects will be reported to Congress at the end of the grant period.

With about 800,000 people in Washington state going uninsured for health care, Thursday’s announcement that some of that can be remedied is good news, "certainly," Wasser said.

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322.
Check out her blog at blogs.ublabs.org/fromthestorageroom.

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