Budget cuts begin with ALL Kids freeze
By By Bill Crist Special to the Advance
The Alabama Department of Public Health announced a freeze on enrollment in the children's health insurance program, ALL Kids, effective Sept. 1, 2003.
According to Dr. Donald Williamson, state health officer, the move is the result of uncertainty over future funding.
"With the possibility of budget cuts, we simply cannot add more children to the ALL Kids program at this time," Williamson said. "All efforts are being made to continue to offer this affordable health care coverage to as many eligible children as possible. By freezing enrollment now we are hoping to avoid having to actively take children off the program."
According to officials with the program, there are more than 600 children in Escambia County currently enrolled in ALL Kids.
"The result (freezing enrollment) is one of the greatest losses, in my opinion, of Amendment One," Ruth Harrell, chair of the Coalition for a Healthier Escambia County said. "That and the possible reduction in Medicaid services in Alabama will be felt by people here for generations to come."
The freeze means that applications for new enrollees received after Sept. 1 are being placed on a waiting list in the order they are received.
"I've seen two patients already this week that would have been eligible for ALL Kids," Dr. Marsha Raulerson, a Brewton pediatrician said.
Raulerson said that in both cases, the parents of the children earned too much to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to be able to afford health insurance premiums.
"In one case, the father had lost his insurance recently because he changed jobs," she said. "There are two children, one a baby that's just two months old that will need all its immunizations."
The children who are currently enrolled in ALL Kids may remain on the program, if they continue to meet all eligibility criteria, at their time of renewal. As current enrollees become ineligible the total number of children covered through ALL Kids will decline.
"I think it will get worse," Raulerson said. "We have funding for 41,000 kids this year with no hope of increasing funds this year or next year."
ALL Kids provides comprehensive health care coverage for children under the age of 19 in families whose incomes are above Medicaid eligibility levels and below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. Parents of enrolled children are able to access affordable health care with the program's comprehensive benefits package.
This program has been critical in the success of reducing the number of uninsured children in Alabama to one of the lowest levels in the state's history. Since ALL Kids began in October 1998, more than 109,544 children in Alabama have received health care coverage.
ALL Kids is beginning its fifth year with more than 61,000 children currently enrolled in the program. ALL Kids is funded with 79 percent federal funds drawn down by a 21 percent state match, most of which comes from the General Fund.
According to Raulerson, Alabama was a leader nationally in its implementation of the program. The proof was in the results, she said.
"We'd gotten to less than five percent of children being uninsured," she said. "Now we're going to go zooming up."
Harrell said the risk of losing additional federal funds was very real, because of the state being unable to meet its matching percentage.
"Many of the 61,000 currently enrolled stand to lose insurance if the legislature and our governor and his staff are not able to find funds for the state match," she said.
ALL Kids will continue to distribute and accept applications for enrollment. This is because the application form for ALL Kids is a joint application for three other programs: SOBRA Medicaid, Medicaid for Low Income Families and the Alabama Child Caring Foundation.
Applications are being screened and those children who are eligible for ALL Kids will be placed on a waiting list in the order in which they are received.
Applications for children who are not eligible for ALL Kids but who appear to be eligible for one of the other programs will be forwarded to that program.
For more information, you may call the ALL Kids administrative offices at 1-334-206-5568 or toll-free at 1-877-774-9521.