Ruling protects Mo. children’s health care

Friday, July 13, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:18 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, June 24, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — A federal judge has ordered the state to provide better notice to families before dropping their children’s health coverage.

Under a 2005 law, Missouri can drop children from a government health care program if their parents don’t pay required premiums.

U.S. District Judge Nanette Laughrey issued a preliminary injunction earlier this week requiring the state to give families at least 10 days’ written notice before dropping them and inform them they can appeal.

She also barred the state from ending coverage until the outcome of an appeal is decided and required state officials to check whether children qualify for other government medical programs before dropping them.

Laughrey said such steps are required under federal rules guiding joint state-federal programs such as Missouri’s Children’s Health Insurance Program.

“A potential lapse in medical coverage for the children of the working poor who are otherwise unable to pay for needed medical attention is an irreparable harm of the highest order,” Laughrey said in issuing the injunction.

The Department of Social Services, which runs the CHIP program, responded Thursday that it will follow the judge’s order, but said it already is meeting many of the requirements.

Spokeswoman Ana Compain-Romero said the agency typically sends two letters before dropping coverage, and will simply move the information on the appeals process into the earlier letter.

She also said if a family does appeal, the department maintains health coverage during that process.

Advocacy groups who helped bring the lawsuit hailed the judge’s order and said it could protect thousands of children.

Laura Redman, an attorney with the National Center for Law and Economic Justice, said poor children have been at risk of losing their health insurance despite doing nothing wrong.

“This is no longer the case and these families can rest easier,” she said in a written statement Thursday. “We are grateful the state has been told it needs to follow the law and that these young people’s rights cannot be trampled upon.”

The state said more than 61,000 children were part of the Children’s Health Insurance Program as of May, and nearly a third owe premiums for their health care.

A trial to consider a long-term decision is scheduled for May.

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