Health program for children gets 11th-hour save

The federal government has awarded Apple Health for Kids money that could keep thousands from losing coverage.

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Apple Health for Kids, Washington's health-coverage program for children, has won $17.6 million from the federal government, which officials are calling a "timely windfall" that could prevent thousands of children from losing health coverage.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services awarded the performance bonus to Washington, Oregon and 13 other states with health coverage programs doing outstanding work to enroll eligible children.

The new money comes two weeks after Gov. Chris Gregoire proposed eliminating Apple Health for Kids for an estimated 27,000 children, according to the Children's Alliance, a grouping of nonprofit advocacy organizations.

Apple Health for Kids was created in 2007 for families with no other options for affordable coverage, with the aim of covering all children by 2010.

The most recent state population survey showed the number of uninsured children statewide has dropped over the last two years, from 4.6 percent to 3.4 percent, even as the economy continues to hinder parents' access to employer-based coverage.

"Covering all kids made good sense in good times; it makes even better sense now," said Jon Gould, deputy director of the Children's Alliance, in a press release. "Thousands of Washington families have turned to Apple Health for Kids as a lifeline for children in these tough times. Apple Health for Kids ensures that all kids get regular checkups so that childhood illnesses don't become lifelong health problems."

States that compete for annual performance bonuses must show they've continued to make progress in covering uninsured children and streamlining administration of their children's health insurance programs. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services recognized Washington's program for five outstanding features, including 12-month continuous coverage, no requirement for an in-person interview upon enrollment and the use of a single application for all children's health programs.

"By simplifying its procedures and cutting red tape, the state is reaping a much-needed financial gain from the federal government," Gould explained.

The $17.6 million in unrestricted funding will be in the state's coffers by the end of the year, to be used to offset the costs of increased enrollment in children's health programs.

The money is geared to support administrative efficiency and effective use of coverage. These goals can be met through funding community navigators and the Apple Health for Kids hotline, which help families connect to coverage and care, as well as "Express Lane Eligibility," which cuts barriers to coverage. With these programs, Washington will continue to receive increasing performance bonuses through 2013.

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