Lawmakers push for funding to help uninsured kids

Two lawmakers said Friday efforts to help Nevada's uninsured children ought to be priorities in the tight state budget now being closed for the coming two fiscal years.

"There's money, you just have to know where to put it. Prioritize it, and put it where it needs to be," said state Sen. Joe Heck, R-Henderson, who was joined by Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Las Vegas, in pushing efforts to help such children.

There are 105,000 children in Nevada who lack health insurance. Of those, 86,000 already are eligible but have not signed up for state-assisted health insurance, according to Marcia O'Malley of Nevada Covering Kids and Families, a nonprofit that works to increase access to health care for low-income families.

Heck is sponsoring SB59, which would extend Medicaid coverage to children with disabilities whose families' incomes are up to 300 percent of federal poverty level. Heck said he knew a family who had reached the $2 million lifetime limit of coverage allowed by their insurer by the time their disabled child was 18 months old, and that's the type of family his bill would help.

Leslie's AB168 would boost health care coverage for low-income pregnant women and children, and expand a subsidy program for employees of small businesses to help the workers buy health insurance policies.

Leslie also believed the pending state budget will accommodate the changes.

"The news is not good, but I would think that covering uninsured children and working families would rise to the top of the priority list," she said.

Nevada has an estimated 400,000 to 450,000 people without health insurance, about 18 percent of the state's population.

AB168 would make a small dent in the uninsured total, by expanding health care to about 1,000 pregnant women, 5,000 employees of small businesses and, with matching federal funds, more than 6,200 children.


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