February 23, 1999
by Nicole Youngman
While some members of Congress have worked hard to keep the public focused on other issues, the number of Americans with no health insurance continues to rise. A report released last fall by Harvard Medical School and Columbia University found that 43.7 million Americans are uninsured, up 1.5 million since 1996. While unemployment is still low at just over 4 percent, many of the jobs that have been created, a large proportion of which are low-paying service-sector jobs, do not come with the benefits that many professionals in more prestigious positions are able to take for granted.
In 1997, a new program was added to the Social Security Act by the Balanced Budget Amendment that seeks to provide health insurance for more low-income families. The Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) includes over $50 billion over a ten-year period to provide health care to the ten million uninsured children in this country. According to the Alabama Department of Public Health, Alabama is eligible for up to $85.6 million a year, supplemented by state matching funds of $23.4 million a year, nearly a 4-to-1 ratio.
The first stage of the implementation of CHIP was to provide Medicaid for 14-to-18-year- olds, an age group that had previously been ineligible for coverage. Alabama was the first state to implement the second phase with its ALL Kids program, which provides insurance for children whose families make up to 200 percent of the official poverty level, which is about $16,500 for a family of four. Blue Cross Blue Shield has been awarded a statewide contract with ALL Kids, and eligible residents in ten Southwest Alabama counties may also opt to receive their benefits through PrimeHealth. The State Employees Insurance Board is helping to administer the program.
Children enrolled in the program will be covered for well-child visits, sick-child doctor visits, prescriptions, dental services, hospital admissions, and limited mental health and substance abuse services. No child will be turned down due to a pre-existing condition. Families whose incomes are at 150 percent of the poverty level or below pay no fees; families whose incomes range from 151-200 percent of the poverty level will pay $50-60 per child for the first three children each year plus a $5 co-pay per service. Applications are available at county health departments, clinics, doctors' offices, hospitals, social service agencies, pharmacies, and over the Internet at http://www.alapubhealth.org/. Women may also apply for SOBRA Medicaid (aimed at pregnant women and mothers with small children) when they apply to enroll their children in ALL Kids.