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Eight states sue over children's healthcare

N.H. among those seeking more aid

EAST ORANGE, N.J. - Eight states are suing the Bush administration over new rules that block expansion of a health insurance program for children from low-income families.

The coalition representing New Jersey, Maryland, Arizona, California, Illinois, New Hampshire, New York, and Washington objects to rules issued in August that make it harder for states to provide coverage to children in middle-income families by limiting the total income of families who participate.

The states suing accuse the administration of overstepping the federal government's authority to set income limits for participants in the State Children's Health Insurance Program.

The lawsuits are another battle between Democrats and the Bush administration over the program, which covers 6.6 million children from modest-income families that aren't poor enough to qualify for Medicaid.

The federal program was set to expire but has been temporarily continued until Congress and the administration can reach a funding agreement.

Democrats want to expand the program by $35 billion over five years, funded by new tobacco taxes, to allow about 10 million uninsured children to participate nationwide.

Legislation recently passed by Congress would do that, but Bush has threatened to veto the measure.

"We are confident that our requirements are appropriate and will be sustained in a court of law," said Jeff Nelligan, a spokesman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

"Our chief goal with SCHIP is to ensure that the poorest kids and those with no health insurance are placed at the front of the line."

The president wants to increase funding by $5 billion over five years.

Democrats argue that wouldn't even cover the 6.6 million children currently enrolled.

New Jersey Governor Jon S. Corzine told reporters that health insurance coverage for 10,000 poor children in his state is at stake. "We frankly don't understand the administration's position," he said.

New Jersey's program, called FamilyCare, provides free and low-cost healthcare, immunizations, hospitalization, lab tests and X-rays, prescription drugs, and dental and mental health services to 122,525 children and 89,050 adults. It costs the state $480 million per year, with $312 million paid by the federal government.

Other governors expressed similar frustrations with the new policy.

"These barriers imposed by the Bush administration mortgage both the fiscal and health future of our nation," Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley said.

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