Baldacci questions SCHIP growth

By Mal Leary, Capitol News Service
Posted Feb. 09, 2009, at 7:31 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Congress and President Obama have expanded the State Children’s Health Insurance Program to cover more kids, but Gov. John Baldacci says the state does not have the approximately $8 million a year to pay its share of the expansion because the state will lose revenue as a result of the federal action.

“We are going to lose about $25 million in state revenues from this bill because of the way they pay for the federal bill with an increase in tobacco taxes,” he said in an interview.

The governor said with the loss of state revenues — $3 million this budget year and $11 million in each of the next two budget years — he has not identified how to make up that revenue loss let alone where to find the funds to pay the 25 percent state share of the SCHIP expansion.

But, he praised the SCHIP program, while saying the state does not have the resources to pay for covering an estimated 11,000 children under the federal expansion of the program.

“We don’t have the money now,” Baldacci said. “But we are committed to working to see if we can find the resources, perhaps from unencumbered health dollars in the stimulus bill.”

Maine is providing the matching funds to draw $14.7 million in federal SCHIP funds to cover nearly 15,000 children. Maine can receive up to $39.3 million this federal budget year to cover an additional 11,000 children.

“Yes, we would like to be able to do this but we have to see what happens in Washington and with the budget here before we can decide whether we can do this,” Baldacci said.

Senate President Elizabeth Mitchell, D-Vassalboro, said she will “strongly” push for including state funding in the two-year budget to take full advantage of the federal expansion.

“I can only speak as one lawmaker,” she said in an interview. “I certainly will do everything in my power to find that money. It is absolutely critical that we make sure Maine children are covered under this program.”

Mitchell said she would have problems with using money from the expected federal stimulus package to pay for any ongoing program. She said it is important that ongoing state resources be committed to the SCHIP program.

“Perhaps the stimulus money used in one area of the state budget can free up some other money that we can use of this program,” Mitchell said. “The state budget is fluid as is what is happening in Washington and we will have to wait and see what happens, but I am committed to working to find the money for this program.”

Sen. Richard Rosen, R-Bucksport, is a member of the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee and served on the Health and Human Services Committee. He said there will be strong support among members of both parties for covering more children, but he is worried about at what price.

“At this particular time, I don’t see available money on the horizon to fund a major expansion,” he said. “It would be irresponsible to take one time money from the federal government stimulus package to fund an ongoing obligation.”

Rosen said he expects there will be an effort to find state funds to match the additional federal dollars, but he said that would mean setting budget priorities and making cuts elsewhere in the state budget.

“We may find ourselves faced with this same dilemma when they finally pass the stimulus package,” he said. “What spending in that final package may require state spending, we just don’t know.”

With funds so tight, there does not seem to be a push by anyone to take advantage of an amendment from Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, that gives states the option to provide dental-only coverage to income-eligible children who have medical insurance but not dental coverage.

“The fact is oral health care is not a luxury — it’s a necessity for a child’s healthy development,” Snowe said after the SCHIP expansion was signed into law earlier this month. “This bill gives states the option to provide dental-only coverage so that working families aren’t forced to drop employer health coverage in order to obtain dental.”

The dental benefit could cost Maine millions more if it chooses to use that option. The exact price tag depends on how the state fashions its program. No one has yet proposed the state take advantage of the Snowe provision.

http://bangordailynews.com/2009/02/09/politics/baldacci-questions-schip-growth/ printed on December 19, 2014