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Clinton to Stress Medicaid for Children in State of Union Talk

December 30, 1997|ALISSA J. RUBIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — With more than 3 million poor children eligible for government health insurance but not receiving it, President Clinton plans to propose an intense outreach effort in his State of the Union address next month.

The child coverage gap within the Medicaid program has proved nearly intractable over the years, according to policy experts.

Indeed, little progress has been made since Clinton highlighted the problem a year ago. Now the president wants to commit additional funds to outreach efforts and to prod states, communities and federal officials to search for joint solutions.

"To do any kind of new outreach will involve some money, but we're not looking at a massive expenditure," White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said Monday. He added that Clinton also will encourage everyone who comes in contact with children--including teachers, church workers and health-care providers--to participate.

According to the Census Bureau, 3.4 million of the nation's 10.3 million uninsured children are eligible for Medicaid, the federal-state health insurance program for the poor and disabled.

All children younger than 6 are eligible for Medicaid if their family income is less than 133% of the poverty level, and children 6 to 15 are eligible if their family income is below the poverty level, which is $16,050 for a family of four.

Administration officials and policy experts cite several reasons for the lagging enrollment.

"The parents don't know they are eligible; they don't like to go to the welfare office," said Nancy Ann Min DeParle, administrator of the Health Care Financing Administration, which oversees the Medicaid program.

Other factors include the length and complexity of application forms and the inconvenient location and hours of many Medicaid offices. Welfare reform also has created obstacles, making it less likely that former recipients would go to government aid offices.

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