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Children's Health Plan Expands, Keeps Baltimore Woman in Business

By Lauren C. Williams
Capital News Service
Friday, Feb. 13, 2009

SILVER SPRING, Md. - Angela Newman's job loss could have meant a health care crisis for her and her children.

Newman, 40, a Baltimore native, was laid off in August after working 10 years for the University of Maryland as an administrative assistant, losing her health insurance in the process.

"I marketed myself out of my position," said Newman, who earned her bachelor's degree, an MBA, and master's degree in health administration while working for the university, and was no longer a "good fit" for the position.

Newman might have been forced to find another underwhelming job, but the State Children's Health Insurance Program or SCHIP, which provides health care coverage for low-income children, helped her new business get off the ground -- "Sweet Fortunes," a gourmet fortune cookie company.

"My biggest concern was health care for my children," said Newman, who has two sons, Tyler Williams, 9, and Jordan Williams, 6, who then suffered asthma attacks three or four times a week, Newman said.

SCHIP, which was set to expire next month, was renewed Feb. 4 and protects coverage of 6.7 million children enrolled and adds coverage for 4.1 million children. The new bill, which has been overshadowed by the giant economic repair bills under discussion in Congress, ensures federal funding for the state-run program for an additional five years, with quite a few perks.

In Maryland, the MCHIP expansion covers 110,000 enrolled children and makes another 42,800 children eligible. The bill also includes dental insurance for all eligible children.

After applying for her sons, Newman received a call asking if she was interested in applying along with her children. Just like that, all of them were again insured.

"It almost seemed too good to be true," Newman said of her MCHIP application process. "I was prepared to deal with major headaches, but they never came."

Newman was able to keep her doctors and keep up with Jordan's medication and treatments.

"I'm one of the more fortunate ones," she said. She still uses MCHIP as her fortune cookie business is beginning to thrive.

"Health care seems so much better (under MCHIP) for some reason," Newman speculated. "It prevents the health issues that come with stress," she said with a laugh.

With the expanded MCHIP, thousands more Marylanders will be able to share Newman's experience.

Maryland's free health care clinics and centers seem to anticipate overwhelming success in children's health care while citing few challenges after President Obama's signing of the bill.

"Every child should have access to health care," said Steve Galen, executive director of the Primary Care Coalition of Montgomery County, with 10 programs for about 3,000 children ineligible for MCHIP.

Some of Maryland's children would "fall through the gaps," said Maria Gomez, president and chief executive officer of Mary's Center, a federally qualified health center, whose focus is to expand services in Maryland and the Washington metropolitan area, including having more providers.

Their parents are construction workers, self-employed, small business owners and cannot afford to provide their own health care, she continued.

"It's a new day in health care," said Vincent DeMarco, president of Maryland Citizens' Health Initiative.

"(We serve) a very large population who could never qualify for Medicaid, who are now eligible for MCHIP," said Gomez.

The new MCHIP will prove better not only for children, but for free clinics and other health care providers, she said.

"When you have someone who is not insured, they come in (to the clinic) when they are really, really, sick or they go to the emergency room," Gomez said.

Under the expanded MCHIP, Galen said, "new people will be covered by the state instead of the county."

MCHIP provides coverage for children in families with incomes up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $52,800 for a family of three in 2008.

"Health care is a family activity -- it makes more sense to insure families instead of breaking it up," said Galen.

Families with incomes between 200 percent and 300 percent of the poverty level will have to pay a premium of approximately $46-$58 per month.

MCHIP also provides free health insurance for pregnant women and legal immigrant children who fall below 250 percent of the poverty level, or a $44,000 annual salary. Coverage is free for children in families with incomes below 200 percent of the poverty level, or about $35,200 for a family of three.

"The real challenge," Gomez said, "is to make families who qualify to register for (MCHIP)."

Copyright 2009 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism

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