Uninsured children in Utah stand to receive more than $350 million for health-care coverage if Congress reauthorizes the state Children's Health Insurance Program this summer, according to a national report released Tuesday.

The $354.8 million in federal money would come over the next five years, but only if Congress both reauthorizes the 1997 program and approves a proposed $50 billion increase in program funding, according to the analysis by Families USA. The money would be on top of the estimated $200 million the state is already expected to receive from the federal government.

"This additional money could go a long way toward covering most of the uninsured children in the state," said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA.

According to recent figures from the Utah Department of Health, the state currently has 89,500 uninsured children. Between 2001 and 2006, the number of children without health insurance has increased 63 percent.

"We know that the target population that we're talking about are very hard-working families," said Judi Hilman, executive director of the Utah Health Policy Project. "We need to make it as easy as possible for them to get their kids covered."

The majority of Utah's uninsured children are from low-income families and would qualify for CHIP, but the program has been closed since Sept. 1 due to lack of funding. However, enrollment will reopen July 2, and an additional 15,000 children should be able to receive health-care coverage with the $4.3 million appropriated to the program by the 2007 Legislature.

Until recently, Utah CHIP had received most of its funding from tobacco-settlement monies. Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., however, has made covering all uninsured children a top priority and lobbied lawmakers this year to allocate more money to programs, such as CHIP and Medicaid, that provide health insurance to low-income children.

In order to draw down the entire $354.8 million in federal funds, Utah lawmakers will have to fully fund CHIP. For every dollar that states put into their respective programs, the federal government matches with $3.79.

The Utah Legislature has historically been hesitant to put more money into CHIP, although advocates hope the reauthorization bill will provide more incentives for states to fully fund their programs. The bill is expected to include an increased match rate for states that meet certain goals, such as enrollment of eligible participants.

"If those incentives actually remain in the legislation ... Utah, which already is in a situation where it gets $3.79 for every state dollar, it will get even more than that," Pollack said.

"This is one of those investments that a state, I think, at its peril really fails to make," he added. "It really is penny wise and pound foolish to fail to make that investment."

The U.S. Senate is expected to begin working on the CHIP reauthorization legislation early next month. The bill will start in the Senate Finance Committee, of which one of the program's original co-sponsors, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, is a member.

"Sen. Orrin Hatch is, no doubt, going to be playing an instrumental role in this debate," Pollack said, adding that he hopes Hatch will be a strong advocate for the $50 billion increase.


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