North Carolina Struggles to Insure Its Children Through Federal Health Choice Program

Posted on Jul 01, 2008
The North Carolina state House and Senate are squabbling over Health Choice, a federal health insurance program that provides children with coverage whose parents make $42,400 or less each year. The program, which is aimed at families who make too much to qualify for Medicaid but don’t make enough to afford private insurance, covers over 122,000 children in the state of North Carolina alone.

The present issue is that although the federal government handles most of the costs, the state does share some of the bill. In the last few years as the program has grown, the state’s spending on the program has risen above federal estimates.

The North Carolina House is proposing that 10,000 new children should be added to the Health Choice program this year, putting aside $10.4 million of its budget to pay for the overhaul. Under this Senate proposal, the state will freeze enrollment until April 1, 2009 in order to control future costs. The program has been steadily growing for the last three years, despite the ongoing lack of sufficient government support.

Senator Tony Rand, a Fayetteville Democrat, would like the federal government to agree to send more financial support for the program. Although he agrees that freezing enrollment is not optimal, he stated that it was better than the alternative, which would be to disenroll children who are already in the program.

Governor Mike Easley, along with North Carolina budget advisor Dan Gerlach, recommended adding the $10.4 million to the program, stating that Congress has come up with the money in the past for both North Carolina and other states that dealt with shortfalls. They hope that the practice of picking up the rest of the bill will continue in the future. State Representative Mickey Michaux, a Democrat from Durham and House budget writer, agreed that Congress would not stiff the state, especially considering that expanding insurance coverage for children is particularly important to the government in these tough economic times.