Philadelphia Inquirer

Corzine Urges Congress To Back Child Health Program

The Philadelphia Inquirer — Tuesday, September 25, 2007

By TOM HESTER Jr.
The Associated Press

Trenton, N.J. — Gov. Jon S. Corzine on Tuesday lobbied the state's congressional delegation to reauthorize a children's health insurance program to ensure more than 200,000 lower-income New Jersey families and children retain health care coverage.

Corzine's letter to the state's two U.S. senators and 13 House members comes after he threatened earlier this month to sue the Bush administration over federal rules he said would force the state to drop health coverage for many poor children.

But Congress is set this week to consider a large spending increase for the popular children's insurance program. Corzine supports that plan, though President Bush renewed his veto threat on Tuesday.

The 10-year-old program expires Sunday, but congressional Democrats plan to extend it temporarily as part of a spending bill. Supporters are seeking a 61-cent hike in the federal cigarette tax to pay for the program.

If the program isn't reauthorized, those in the program will either lose coverage or state taxpayers will have to fund the difference, Corzine wrote.

"Ensuring that children have access to health insurance coverage will provide them with a healthy start in life and reduce medical expenditures later in life," Corzine wrote.

The health insurance program, known as SCHIP, provides coverage to 6 million children and 600,000 adults nationwide.

New Jersey's program, called FamilyCare, provides free and low-cost health care, immunizations, hospitalization, lab tests and X-rays, prescription drugs, dental and mental health services to more than 122,525 children and 89,050 adults. It costs the state $480 million per year, with $312 million paid for by the federal government.

New Jersey enrolls children from families whose annual income is as much as $72,275, but Corzine contends Bush's plan to require states enroll children from families with the lowest incomes would leave many needing help in a state with high living costs.

The White House contends the expanded program "goes too far toward federalizing health care" and offers help to families who don't need it.

The New Jersey Citizen Action government watchdog group, meanwhile, came to the Statehouse on Tuesday to also call on Congress to reauthorize the program.

Adele LaTourette of the Statewide Emergency Food and Anti-Hunger Network said the health care dispute comes with food pantries and soup kitchens already serving more people.

"Working families, single mothers with young children and senior citizens are being stretched to the limit, unable to afford to keep a roof over their heads, pay for prescriptions and feed themselves and their families," she said.

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