WASHINGTON -- A bipartisan group of lawmakers announced plans Wednesday to introduce legislation to expand Medicaid coverage to poor and near-poor women and children.
'We must expand access to Medicaid programs if we are to have any hope of reaching' the surgeon general's goal of reducing the infant mortality rate from its current level of 10.4 deaths per 1,000 live births to nine deaths per 1,000 live births by 1990, said Sen. Bill Bradley, D-N.J.
Bradley introduced in the Senate the three-part Infant Mortality and Children's Health Act of 1989, along with co-sponsors John Chaffee, R-R.I., and Donald Riegle, D-Mich.
The House will receive a similar bill Thursday when it is introduced by co-sponsors Henry Hyde, R-Ill., Mickey Leland, D-Texas, Henry Waxman, D-Calif. and Donald Payne, D-N.J.
'We are the wealthiest, most powerful nation in the world,' Hyde said, 'yet a child born in Czechoslovakia or Bulgaria has a better chance of celebrating its first birthday than a black child born in America. This is unconscionable.'
The legislation would require the states to provide Medicaid coverage for prenatal and infant services for women and infants with incomes below 125 percent of the poverty level as of July 1991. The income threshold will increase to 150 percent of the poverty line in the next year, and up to 185 percent by 1993.
Income below 185 percent of the federal poverty level would be $17,900 per year for a family of three, while 100 percent of the level would be $9,690 per year for the same size family.
Current law requires coverage up to 100 percent of poverty level by July 1990.
The bill also would require health centers to treat pregnant women while their Medicaid application is pending and states to provide adequate payments for attracting obstetricians to the Medicaid program.
Another initiative would require states to offer Medicaid services in the community to children under 18 years old who require the regular use of particular medical equipment, under certain conditions.
Waxman stressed the legislation merely would implement campaign promises of President Bush, who said he 'will provide the leadership to ensure a national commitment to all infants and to ensure that children continue to have access to primary health care and basic medical services throughout their childhood.'
The initiatives will, by 1993, extend Medicaid coverage to an estiamted 160,000 pregnant women, 170,000 infants, and 1.1 million children over one year old who are poor -- half of whom now have no health coverage, he said.
Waxman, chairman of the subcommittee on health and the environment of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, estimated that the three-pronged initiative would cost $420 million.
The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children's Defense Fund lent their support for the bill.