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Federal government send $17 million to Washington for child health coverage

Last week, $16,987,468 was awarded to Washington state for ensuring more children have health coverage, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced.

The performance bonus payments are funded under the Children's Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act, one of the first pieces of legislation signed into law by President Obama in 2009.

To qualify for these bonus payments, states must surpass a specified Medicaid enrollment target. They also must adopt procedures that improve access to Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), making it easier for eligible children to enroll and retain coverage.

Washington is one of 23 states to share over $296 million in federal performance bonuses this year.

The bonuses come one week after new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that the number of children with insurance increased by 1.2 million since the CHIP reauthorization in 2009.

"More of Washington's children now have the advantages health coverage provides," Sebelius said. "And Washington parents now have the security of knowing their children can get the health care they need without worrying that an illness could leave them with a lifetime of medical bills."

Washington is receiving a performance bonus for the third year. The state has made several program improvements to streamline the children's health coverage enrollment process. For example, the same forms are used to apply for Medicaid or CHIP (Apple Health for Kids) and applicants are not required to appear for a face-to-face interview, which can be especially difficult for working parents.

Washington's children are more likely to have health coverage than children in 39 other states because of Apple Health for Kids' affordability and streamlined enrollment practices, state officials say.

This is the third year in a row that Apple Health for Kids has earned this federal recognition.

"This is something to celebrate," said Jon Gould, deputy director of the Children's Alliance. "In a few short years, advocates for kids and lawmakers have built Apple Health for Kids into a national model for children's health coverage.

In addition, Washington guarantees eligible children enrollment for a full year, ensuring they get continuous coverage and that needed care is not disrupted.

Performance bonuses help offset the costs states incur when they enroll lower income children in Medicaid. The bonuses also give states the incentive to streamline their enrollment and renewal procedures, ensuring long-term improvements in their children's health insurance programs.

"Despite serious fiscal challenges, today's awards show that children's health remains a top priority for states," said Cindy Mann, Deputy Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The state legislature created Apple Health for Kids in 2007 for families with no other options for affordable coverage. It quickly became vital to ensuring family stability during the recession.

Between 2006 and 2010, nearly 165,000 children lost health coverage via their families' employers. During that time, Apple Health for Kids enrolled 208,000 more children. The program now covers more than 4 out of every 10 children in the state (733,000 children).

The size of the federal performance bonus is based on the number of children enrolled: the more children enrolled, the bigger the bonus. This year Washington's bonus ranks as the ninth largest among the 23 states that received funding.

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