ANNAPOLIS, MD—Maryland may soon extend health care benefits to pregnant women and children under the age of four up to 250% of the federal poverty level if funding is approved in the governor’s proposed budget. Currently, the state’s Kids Count program provides coverage for primary care services to children aged 1 through 13 below 185% of the federal poverty level who are not eligible for the Medicaid program. Services covered include immunizations, screening, physician visits, and pharmacy benefits. The "Thriving By Three" program would now extend the Kids Count benefit package to an estimated 650 pregnant women and 2,150 children. The expansion would be 100% state-funded and would cost approximately $2.5 million. Susan Tucker, Chief of Division of Maternal and Child Health for the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH), says the agency would also like to include dental benefits in the program, but must first get federal approval. A total of $200,000 has been budgeted for a media awareness campaign to reach eligible children and pregnant women. The state’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene projects that the publicity surrounding the initiative will increase enrollment in Medicaid and Kids Count for those who are already eligible but have never enrolled. That increased enrollment of current eligibles is projected to cost another $5.5 million. Three losing bidders appeal award of Montana mental health contract HELENA, MT—Three months after awarding a five-year contract to provide managed mental health care to 80,000 Medicaid-eligible and non-Medicaid-eligible residents, Montana is facing appeals from all three losers in the bidding process. At stake is a contract worth at least $400 million. Dal Smilie, chief counsel for the state Department of Administration, says appeals have been filed with his office by Merit Behavioral Care of Montana, Inc.; Vista Montana, a unit of the San Diego-based Vista Hill Foundation; and by Options Health Care, which submitted a bid in partnership with a group of Montana hospitals. The state awarded the contract for the program, slated to start April 1, to Montana Community Partners, a joint venture between CMG Health, Inc. and a group of more than 20 human service groups, including all five of the state’s community mental health centers. Mr. Smilie says issues raised in the appeals include an allegation that some evaluators of the bids had a conflict of interest; that Montana Community Partners was allowed to submit a proposal that was far longer than requested; and that the winner was given the opportunity to answer supplemental questions not asked of the other bidders.