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June 3, 2011

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Melissa Figueroa (916) 651-4011 .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)


SACRAMENTO – County governments will be better able to cover the growing number of California children who lack health insurance under legislation that passed the Senate this week. Senate Bill 36, introduced by State Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto), enables counties that provide children’s health insurance to tap additional federal funds at no cost to the state. The bill now moves to the Assembly.

“During tough times, families of modest means are hit especially hard, particularly those with kids,” said Simitian. “There is federal money on the table to give these at-risk kids the health insurance they need. And this bill gives participating counties a green light to access those funds.”

By changing income-based eligibility limits in state law, Senate Bill 36 would enable County Health Initiatives in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, and in San Francisco, to cover more uninsured children. Simitian is hopeful that increased access to federal funds will produce similar initiatives in other counties.

Senate Bill 36 is sponsored by the County of San Mateo, whose Healthy Kids program currently provides health insurance to nearly 5,200 children who do not qualify for Medi-Cal or the Healthy Families programs. County officials say that Simitian’s legislation would bring additional federal funds to the county each year, and allow even more kids to be covered. “On a statewide basis,” said Simitian, “we can access millions of federal dollars and help thousands of kids.”

“We appreciate Senator Simitian’s efforts,” said Jean Fraser, San Mateo County Health System Chief.  “This bill would enable communities like ours to sustain health coverage for children and leverage all available federal resources during a time of significant financial strain for families, the state, and local governments.”

Senate Bill 36 updates California law to reflect changes made to the federal State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).  In 2009, the reauthorization of SCHIP and a directive from President Obama increased eligibility by eliminating restrictions on children from 300% to 400% of the federal poverty level.  Under SB 36, counties would receive federal funds for those additional children who are provided health insurance.

While 400% of the national poverty level may sound like a comfortable income, in counties such as San Mateo, Santa Clara and San Francisco, where the cost of living is among the highest in the nation, it is considered the minimum necessary for self-sufficiency.

The bill also allows counties to protect children currently receiving care under the state’s Healthy Families Program in the event that the State’s budget situation results in cutbacks to Healthy Families. 

The federal government currently contributes approximately $2 for every $1 California spends insuring at-risk children through the Healthy Kids Program. For children above 300% the federal poverty level the match is $1. If state budget constraints force cuts to the Healthy Families Program, counties would also be able to use their qualified health programs to cover those children – and keep the federal matching funds for providing that care.

“Health care is basic and essential,” Simitian said. “Accessing our fair share of federal dollars allows us to leverage the limited funding we do have at the state and local level, and to give more help to more kids.”

“First and foremost, I want insurance coverage for these kids,” said Simitian, “but I’m also trying to ensure that California has access to its fair share of federal funds.”

Senate Bill 36 is a reintroduction of Senate Bill 1431, which Simitian authored for the 2010 legislative session. It passed the Legislature but was vetoed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

For more information on SB 36, visit