Clip files / Local news from the states

This column features selected short items about state health care policy.

Wisconsin moves on health insurance for kids

MILWAUKEE—Every child in Wisconsin will have access to affordable health insurance starting Feb. 1, 2008 through a sweeping restructuring of state health programs put in place by Gov. Jim Doyle. The governor said the plan, known as BadgerCare Plus, will streamline the state's existing health programs and allow parents to buy affordable health insurance for their children.

"We have a moral obligation to provide every child in Wisconsin with affordable, quality health care," Mr. Doyle said in a statement. "With BadgerCare Plus, we will reach out to every family across this state to ensure their children get the care they need at a price they can afford." Under BadgerCare Plus, families whose children are not eligible for existing state programs would be able to buy health insurance for a child for $10 to $68.53 a month, or $120 to $822.36 a year, depending on the families' income.

The state expects to pay for the expansion primarily from streamlining state programs; expanding the use of health maintenance organizations; and the premiums and co-pays paid by families.

Wisconsin has one of the lowest rates of uninsured children in the country, according to U.S. census data. Nonetheless, an estimated 71,000 children in Wisconsin were uninsured at a given time in 2006, up from an estimated 63,000 in 2005, according to the state's 2006 Family Health Survey. The study found that an estimated 48,000 children were uninsured for all of last year.

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 11/7/07

Now what? Oregon child health plan up in smoke

PORTLAND—Voters' snub of a tobacco tax increase has sent legislative leaders and Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski back to square one in their quest to make health care affordable for all Oregonians. Cigarette tax money from Measure 50 would have gone to insure many of the estimated 116,000 children in Oregon without health insurance, as well as a sliver of the roughly 460,000 uninsured adults.

Leaders in Salem have no backup plan, but a seven-member panel is charged with drafting legislation for 2009 to expand health coverage for the uninsured. "That's what's so frightening. This was an attempt to deal with the crisis for kids, and now that that's gone, we're all looking at each other," said Senate president Peter Courtney, D-Salem.

"There's an undercurrent that someone else will solve this problem for us, and that's not good." Even Measure 50 supporters acknowledge that the tax would have provided a short-term fix for a problem that requires a top-to-bottom overhaul of a system that's inefficient and expensive.

Tax would have raised millions

Measure 50 would have raised an estimated $147 million in 2008-09 and $208 million in 2009-11 to provide health insurance for more than 90,000 low- and middle-income children. Money also would have gone to enroll 10,000 poor adults in the Oregon Health Plan.

Kulongoski ran for re-election last year promising health care for Oregon's uninsured children, paying for it by raising cigarette taxes. There was widespread agreement that providing coverage for children was a good start, Chip Terhune, Mr. Kulongoski's chief of staff, said. "You have the business community really struggling with rising health care costs and the impact on their bottom line. You have employees, labor, and a host of consumers out there, generally, that are facing the exact same pressure on their own pocketbooks," he said. "And that dynamic creates this incredible pressure in the middle to do something."

Portland Oregonian, 11/8/07

Arkansas unveils health program for workers

NORTH LITTLE ROCK—Arkansas state employees can earn days off for quitting smoking, eating more fruits and vegetables and other healthy changes under a new incentive program, Gov. Mike Beebe and health officials announced. Mr. Beebe announced the expansion of a pilot program started under former Gov. Mike Huckabee, his predecessor. Under the Arkansas Healthy Lifestyle program, state employees can earn up to three days per year for participating in a voluntary program that focuses on increasing physical activity, increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables, and decreasing or eliminating the use of tobacco products.

Expands lifestyle program

The announcement expands the Healthy Employee Lifestyle Program, a pilot project started in 2004 targeting 10,000 employees in the Department of Health and Department of Human Services. So far, more than 2,500 people have registered in the program and 947 have earned time off work through points earned by improving their eating habits and health.

Associated Press, 11/10/07