For once, HCFA hears praise on the Hill

The new Children's Health Insurance Program, created in the 1997 Balanced Budget Act, is such a success that, when the Senate Finance Committee Thursday heard testimony from Health Care Financing Administrator Nancy-Ann Min DeParle, Senators mostly refrained from taking the agency to task for its perceived shortcomings.

"We are here to focus on a success story," said Finance Chairman William Roth, R-Del., noting that, in its first full year of implementation, the program enrolled just under 1 million previously uninsured children, more than the 800,000 projected by the Congressional Budget Office.

DeParle said that, so far, HCFA has approved 52 plans from states and territories to cover children under the new program, which is on target to reach its goal of enrolling 2.5 million children by the year 2000.

DeParle said the program could use two legislative changes that would help states with their outreach effort: One would raise the cap on outreach funding from its current 10 percent to 13 percent of program funds, the other would let states tap into a $500 million fund currently reserved for outreach to children who lose cash welfare benefits but remain eligible for Medicaid.

"States have indicated that their outreach efforts have been hampered by limited funding," DeParle said.

Roth did chastise HCFA for its decision to require states to wait a year before considering waivers to craft programs different from the wide array laid out in the law. "That's not in the statute," he said.

DeParle replied the agency wanted states to try to work within the law's framework first.

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