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CO: Ritter Touts Number of Kids Added to State Health Coverage

Gov. Bill Ritter on Tuesday marked a health care milestone, announcing that more than 100,000 children have been added to state health coverage rolls since he took office.

But Ritter, a Democrat who isn't seeking re-election, did not rule out cuts to state health programs when his administration draws up the 2011-12 budget this fall. The state is facing what could be a $1 billion shortfall in that budget year, which begins in July 2011.

"In a downturn, everything is on the table," Ritter said.

In addition, Colorado could end up making more than $200 million in cuts in the current fiscal year if Congress doesn't approve an extension of enhanced funding for Medicaid.

Medicaid is the state- and federally funded health insurance program for the poor, while Child Health Plan Plus is an optional program that covers kids from families that make too much money to qualify for Medicaid.

In January 2007, when Ritter took office, there were 249,467 kids covered by Medicaid and CHP+. As of June of this year, that number had risen to 355,147, a 42 percent increase.

"By strengthening health coverage for children, we are doing the right thing for our youngest citizens and for Colorado," Ritter said. "We still have more work to do. We need to make it as easy for children in Colorado to get health insurance as it is for them to check out a library book."

Ritter's office touted his efforts to enroll more children, and keep them enrolled, in Medicaid and CHP+. During the last economic downturn under Gov. Bill Owens, a Republican, the state at one point capped enrollment in CHP+.

Still, the governor admitted it was difficult to say how much of the increase in enrollment has been due to his administration's outreach efforts versus the economy, which has spurred many parents to enroll their children in state health care programs.

Not everyone thinks the growth in Medicaid and CHP+ rolls has been a good thing.

"During an election year, they congratulate themselves on over-extending state government," said Rep. Kent Lambert, a Republican from Colorado Springs who sits on the Joint Budget Committee. "But how are they going to continue to pay for this?"

 

This article was published by the Denver Post on July 28th, 2010 and was written by Tim Hoover.