Child-care bill veto hits home

In the wake of the president’s veto of a bill that would have dramatically expanded children’s health coverage, San Mateo County officials are lamenting the possible impact on hundreds of local children.

President George W. Bush’s Wednesday veto of bipartisan legislation that would have added $35 billion over five years to the State Children’s Health Insurance Program also worried Peninsula families who benefit from SCHIP-funded programs.

Redwood City residents Lupita Araujo and Luis Vargas say their family could not live without the state’s Healthy Families program and San Mateo County’s Healthy Kids program.

Their children — Susan, 5, and Oscar, 7 — suffer from neurofibromatosis, a genetic disorder that causes tumors to form on their nerves. But regular appointments with the children’s neurologists, primary care physicians and speech therapists have allowed them to keep the condition under control. Both children are doing well in school, the parents say, and have largely avoided complications thanks to constant care.

“I have no idea what I would do without the help,” Araujo said. “My kids have to see specialists. They have to have care.”

Marmi Bermudez, program manager for the Children’s Health Initiative of San Mateo County, said SCHIP provides 100 percent of the funding for Healthy Families, which allows low-income parents who do not qualify for MediCal to buy low-cost health insurance for their children. There are 9,300 San Mateo County children enrolled in the program and more than 800,000 kids enrolled statewide.

The state has been overspending for years to expand the program, while federal contributions have remained static for the past decade, Bermudez said. She expects the veto — unless Congress overturns it in the next few weeks — will cause some children to be dropped from the program.

For families who do not qualify for the state’s Healthy Families program but struggle to make ends meet, San Mateo County offers a similar program, called Healthy Kids. Of the 6,300 children enrolled in the county program, 377 are funded by SCHIP dollars.

“Those 377 children and families could lose their health benefits unless we can find alternative methods to cover them,” said San Mateo County Supervisor Jerry Hill.

Hill said county officials plan to work with state and federal legislators to try to overturn the veto or modify the legislation.

The $35 billion expansion would have been funded by raising the federal cigarette tax by 61 cents.

tbarak@examiner.com

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