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Governor lobbies Bush for health-care help

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger met with President Bush and Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt this week with a simple message: California needs federal help to expand health-care coverage to uninsured Californians.
Health care has raced to the top of the governor’s policy agenda this year.

Democratic and Republican leaders in the Legislature have countered with broad proposals of their own to expand health coverage. But these moves come as Washington is struggling to meet their existing obligations to help states cover the most vulnerable of their citizens.

Federal matching funds are a key component Gov. Schwarzenegger’s proposed health-care coverage expansion. The governor has called for up to $3.7 billion in new federal dollars to help expand coverage for Californians. Schwarzenegger communications director Adam Mendelsohn says, “There are all sorts of things we can do to maximize federal dollars for health care. That has to be a part of any health-care reform.”

But Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, says relying of federal money is not the answer–particularly given the early signals coming out of Washington. “I think the prospects are dimming for the governor’s proposal, because it relies on more federal dollars,” she said. “The administration in Washington has made it pretty clear to all the governors that they intend to decrease, not increase, health-care funding to the states.”

Democratic and Republican governors have criticized the Bush administration in recent days for its proposal to scale back federal contributions to the State Childrens Health Insurance Program. That program gives flexibility to states to cover children and families without health insurance.

Under federal guidelines, states must offer programs to cover children with family incomes of up to twice the federal poverty limit. (For a family of four, that income level is just above $40,000 per year.)

But many states, including California, use that federal level as a floor rather than a ceiling. Under the state Healthy Families program, the state offers health insurance to children who have a family income of up to two-and-a-half times the federal poverty level. The governor wants to raise that to three times the federal poverty level this year.

Currently under the Healthy Families program, the federal government provides two dollars for every dollar spent by the state. Kim Belsh


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