A bipartisan team of senators introduced a bill that would quash a CMS directive tightening the State Childrens Health Insurance Program enrollment requirements.
The bill would prohibit the CMS from implementing an Aug. 17 rule that disallows states from expanding their coverage to children from families with income above 250% of the federal poverty level unless the states can guarantee that they have successfully enrolled 95% of the eligible children from families below 200% of the poverty level in either SCHIP or Medicaid. No state currently is able to demonstrate that they have enrolled 95% of the eligible population.
This bill allows states to continue to have the flexibility to make the right decision for their children and will help secure coverage for children across the country, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), co-sponsor of the bill, said in a written statement. Other sponsors include Sens. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.), Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine).
Meanwhile, Acting CMS Administrator Kerry Weems told reporters that the main purpose of the directive was to take the poorest kids and kids without insurance and put them at the front of the line, adding, We could have done a better job of explaining that.
Weems, who hadnt yet been appointed as acting administrator when the policy was issued, said one problem was that a leadership vacancy at the agency helped cloud the CMS intent. I think thats what happens when theres ambiguity about leadership, he said.
Still, in one of his first moves at Medicares helm last week, Weems rejected a proposal from New York health officials that ran afoul of the directive. The New York proposal would have expanded SCHIP to include children in families that earn more than $80,000 per year.
The rule has been widely panned ever since. The National Association of State Medicaid Directors and the American Public Human Services Association criticized the CMS initiative and earlier this week, 44 senatorsincluding six Republicanssent a letter to President Bush opposing the new requirement. -- by Matthew DoBias and Jennifer Lubell
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