It’s tough to find good budget news these days so Monday’s announcement that the state qualified for a performance bonus for its program to insure children from low-income families is especially welcome.
As one of 15 states to earn a bonus, Washington will receive $17.6 million from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. While it can be spent however the Legislature chooses, backers of the program known as Apple Health for Kids are urging it be kept in the program to protect it from budget cuts.
Gov. Chris Gregoire had suggested she might have to call for an elimination of the program that subsidizes health insurance for about 700,000 children. While some families enjoy the program without cost, others pay portions of the premium depending on their annual income.
The state was rewarded both for increasing its enrollment and for streamlining the application process and the administration. Only 3.4 percent of potentially eligible kids are not signed up.
Jon Gould, deputy director of the advocacy group The Children’s Alliance, said he hopes lawmakers will use the money to maintain the program. He said the state could be in line for another bonus at the end of next year if it increases or even maintains its enrollment.
“We still have some room to grow,” Gould said. State forecasters think the program could add 25,000 children in each of the next two years.
During its one-day special session earlier this month, lawmaker directed that this expected bonus be kept in the medical assistance budget. But with more cuts coming in revisions to the current budget and the next two-year budget, all programs are at risk.
Here’s a National Journal article with background on the program and the bonuses.