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Insurance candidate wants better child coverage

FARGO -- North Dakota needs to do more to help uninsured children get access to health care, Rep. Jasper Schneider of Fargo said Tuesday.

The Democratic-NPL candidate for state insurance commissioner outlined his proposal to provide 3,300 more children with access to health insurance.

Schneider wants to expand the state's Healthy Steps income eligibility limits from 150-percent net income of the poverty line to 200 percent.

Healthy Steps is a state- and federally funded program that pays premiums for eligible children. Families are responsible for nominal co-pays.

Under Schneider's plan, a family of four with an annual net income of up to $42,400 would be eligible for the program, as opposed to a $31,800 limit, according to Department of Human Services' figures.

A family's net income is calculated after subtracting items like child-care costs, payroll taxes, court-ordered child support, etc.

Schneider said his plan would cost approximately $12 million, but matching federal funds could reduce the state's cost to $3 million, upon federal approval.

North Dakota is "at the back of the pack" in income eligibility compared to other states, Schneider said.

The state brags about its economy and its budget surplus, but 3,300 kids have gone without health insurance as a result of "stockpiling and hoarding this money," Schneider said.

Schneider's opponent, Insurance Commissioner Adam Hamm, said he agrees the state's children need to be a top priority.

Hamm said the immediate focus for him is to continue outreach efforts to make sure children currently eligible for the program get enrolled.

The program was created for children whose parents earned too much for them to qualify for Medicaid, but who don't have enough money to afford private insurance, Hamm said.

Unless the federal government increases its funding, there aren't matching dollars to get to 200 percent, he said.

"We need to get every (eligible) child enrolled. Then we can have a healthy debate on what's the correct, reasonable expansion of the program," Hamm said.

In addition to increasing eligibility limits, Schneider wants to form an advisory council to study how to expand health insurance access to all North Dakota children.

Approximately 15,000 children in the state don't have health insurance now, he said.

"We really have to take a look at where our priorities are at, and mine are with our children," Schneider said.

The Forum and The Dickinson Press are both owned by Forum Communications Co.