In January, Alabama state senators promised to expand Alabama's nationally recognized Children's Health Insurance Program.
In May, we voted to fund that expansion.
On Oct. 1, that promise, that funding and that expansion becomes a reality, a reality for middle-class working families and their children.
The new expansion will serve an additional 14,000 children, the first eligibility expansion in the program's history. National policy leaders are calling Alabama a national leader in our new efforts to serve children without health insurance, and I could not be more proud of my support.
But this is not news to me. Alabama has been a national leader for many years now; we were the first state in the nation to offer the Children's Health Insurance Program, a program that we call All Kids.
Right now, the All Kids program covers families at 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level. Our expansion will now cover a family of four at 300 percent of the Federal Poverty Level, which is a gross income limit of $66,156.
As I stated above, this expansion will provide health insurance to another 14,000 Alabama children, an increase of about 20 percent. All Kids currently serves more than 69,000 children.
The All Kids expansion addresses a growing problem among working families, and what a perfect time to do it with an economy that is strangling the dreams of too many of our citizens. Understand who is helped by All Kids: the children of working people, families that make too much money to qualify for aid, but they don't make enough money to afford basic health insurance. Many work for companies that do not provide health insurance for employees. So their kids end up with no health insurance at all.
We are talking about thousands of working families who play by the rules, pay their taxes and raise their families, but they work for companies that do not provide basic health care coverage to their workers. Or they simply cannot afford the high premiums of private health care. That's wrong and All Kids attempts to correct that wrong.
For children under 19, All Kids offers regular checkups, doctor visits, prescriptions, dental and vision, hospital and physician services. Costs are low with small co-pays. And there are no co-pays for preventive services. No child can be turned down because of pre-existing conditions.
The All Kids program is not free. Parents who get into the program because of the expansion will pay $100 annually per child, with a maximum of $300 per family regardless of the number of children.
It wasn't easy finding the money to fund this expansion. But I believe in tough economic times leadership requires the setting of priorities, and the funding of priorities. It is in tough times that you learn what is really important to you, and helping the children of working families is the right thing to do, the right thing to do for these families, the right thing to do for Alabama and the right thing to do for our economy.
Senators were determined to keep our agenda promise, and we found the money to expand All Kids. This is one of the best state investments we can make. A $7 million state match to $24 million in federal funds will pay for the expansion.
I kept a second pledge to you as well. Because of the failing economy, tax revenues were down drastically, requiring deep and hurtful budget cuts. But again, prior to the start of the legislative session, I made another commitment to the people of my district: that state budgets would not be balanced upon the backs of our children and our seniors.
The budget was vetoed and opponents fought to take money away from both the All-Kids expansion and senior citizen programs, money opponents wanted to transfer to state prisons. I voted “No” to that, and we saved the funding for All Kids and seniors' programs.
Now that funding to expand All Kids starts on October 1. Parents who want to enroll in All Kids can apply with the Alabama Department of Public Health by calling their toll-free number at 888-373-5437, or by applying at their web site, www.adph.org. Applications are also available at local county health departments.