Budget spares kids' health coverage

Coverage will still be offered to children whose parents are undocumented immigrants.

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Some children of undocumented immigrants will continue to have state health coverage after the Legislature approved the budget Wednesday.

To the joy of child advocates, the Apple Health for Kids program will stay open to all eligible children, albeit with higher insurance premiums.

The program covers more than 700,000 children, including about 27,000 whose parents who are in the country without documentation.

Legislators maintained Apple Health for Kids, blocking attempts to limit enrollment or deny health coverage to children, according to a press release from the nonprofit Children's Alliance.

"It took a monumental effort to protect the health of our state's children," said Jon Gould, alliance deputy director.

Gov. Chris Gregoire's budget proposal of last December would have ended health coverage for undocumented children. In April, the state Senate proposed to undo the state's commitment to cover all eligible kids.

"These proposed cuts were a major step backwards for our state and unfairly targeted children in immigrant families," says Gould. "In the midst of some really dire choices, the House and Senate agreed on one thing -- kids' health is too precious to sacrifice to a budget shortfall. No child should go without the health care they need."

Depending on family income, monthly premiums for children of undocumented parents will rise from $20-$30 per month to approximately $80-$90 per month after July 1, state officials said.

That affects fewer than 500 families, noted Jim Stevenson, a spokesman for the state Medicaid program. "On the plus side, $80 per month kids' insurance is still lower than what you can get on the private market."

The Children's Alliance is working to identify sponsors to help families who would experience financial hardship as a result of the higher premiums, Gould said.

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322.

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