WASHINGTON – Susan Molina can't afford health insurance for her kids because the cost equals what she pays for two weeks of groceries.
Her two children can't see a doctor immediately if they have a cough or even if they are seriously ill.
“I can't just take them to the doctor and wave a paper and say my kids need to be seen. I have to wait,” Molina told House members last week.
Fighting back tears,the Denver single mother told the Subcommittee on Health of the Committee on Energy and Commerce about how her children,ages 10 and 14,were covered until September under the State Children's Health Insurance Program.
But when a new job started paying her more,she no longer qualified because her salary exceeded the program's eligibility,over 200 percent of the poverty level. For a family of three that's just over $34,000 a year.
Molina added that “34,000 may sound like a good amount of money,” but she has more than $10,000 in braces to pay for as well as $70 a month for school lunches.
She asked the panel to continue the program and extend its reach to more than 200 percent of the poverty level.
Her testimony came in the first of two hearings on whether to reauthorize the program,which expires at the end of the year.
Passed in 1997,it pays states to provide health care to children in low-income households. Parents,mostly pregnant women,are also eligible under certain conditions.
At first,states didn't use all the money allotted for the program,but spending increased 10 percent every year. For 2007,$5.04 billion is available,and expenditures are expected to reach $6.4 billion,financed from money left over from previous years. That fund has run low.
To control costs,President Bush has proposed restrictions in his 2008 budget,including further restricting conditions for parents.
Policy analysts,volunteers and health care experts testified before the committee,most of whose members support reauthorization and disapprove of the proposed restrictions.
Rep. Diana L. DeGette,D-Colo.,said she wants to expand the program to keep kids out of the emergency room. “The reauthorization of this program will either be one or two of the most important issues this committee takes on this year,” she said.
Other members expressed concern about rising costs but stopped short of criticizing the program directly.
Rep. Nathan Deal,R-Ga.,said he wants to look at state health care mandates,which dictate what insurance policies must include.