Thursday, March 15, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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38,000 more children with health care

State lawmakers made the right connection between preventative health and stemming the rising cost of health care when they passed legislation extending health-insurance coverage to 38,000 more children over the next two years.

The move brings Washington state a few steps closer to a laudable goal of providing health-care coverage to every one of the 73,000 kids currently without it. The Legislature went beyond the recommendation of Gov. Christine Gregoire to insure all children under age 19 in families with an annual household income up to 250 percent of the federal poverty level — about $50,000 annually for a family of four.

The new law will cover families with annual household incomes up to $62,000. The bump was appropriate. Private health insurance is growing increasingly out of reach for working families. Some employers do not offer health insurance for dependents or they charge low-wage employees the full price of coverage.

Premiums based on a sliding scale ensure that parents who can afford to share the cost will do so.

This was not reckless spending. The health-care-coverage bill was a judicious use of resources to pay for medical checkups and preventative care now rather than paying for costly emergency care later. No surprise, the legislation drew wide support on both sides of the aisle in the Legislature.

Gov. Gregoire's signature is assured. The task turns now to renewing efforts to connect eligible families with insurance coverage. Federal State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) funds can be tapped for outreach and education.

The Legislature also simplified the overly bureaucratic enrollment process to make it easier for parents to navigate. Streamlining is always a good thing. An added bonus in this case is that it will save time, employee hours and, ultimately, money.

Health-care coverage for children is the kind of initiative that goes hand in hand with education reform and other social improvements. It is the kind of investment that pays off.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company


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