(Washington, D.C.) - Today U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash) joined with Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash) in introducing a bill to expand health insurance coverage for low-income children.

"The Children's Health Protection and Eligibility Act" (S.264) will allow Washington State to provide health insurance for more low-income children.

By correcting funding allocations, the bill will ensure that states like Washington are no longer punished for their early work to cover low-income children.

Senator Murray's statement follows:

"Mr. President, I rise today to join with Senator Cantwell in introducing the Children's Health Protection and Eligibility Act. This important legislation will ensure that low income children in Washington State are not denied access to health insurance coverage. The legislation provides a fair and equitable distribution of unobligated state balances in the CHIP program. It ensures that States like Washington that have led the nation in caring for their children are not denied access to vital CHIP dollars. It rewards Washington state for putting children first.

Washington State is facing the greatest fiscal crisis since World War II. Between June 2001 and November 2002, Washington state lost more than 74,000 non-farm jobs. This economic recession has hit families in Washington state hard.

In 2000, before the recession began, there were 155,000 uninsured children in Washington State. Current estimates place this number even higher. With additional layoffs and more families losing COBRA coverage, the number of uninsured children will only continue to grow. Washington State must have access to its CHIP dollars to prevent more children from losing their health care safety net.

Because Washington State was so far ahead of the rest of the nation in 1997, when CHIP was enacted, our state has been unable to use its full allocation. A majority of children who would be eligible for participation in CHIP were already covered in 1997 under the Medicaid program. As a result, Washington State has been unable to count these children as "CHIP." The federal share of CHIP is current 67% as opposed to Medicaid, which provides only a 50% match for Washington state. If the state was able to provide coverage for some of these low income children under CHIP, it would reduce pressure on our state's Medicaid program. Without this relief, Washington State will face additional Medicaid reductions. Many of the children that currently have coverage will lose this coverage and join the ranks of the uninsured.

Allowing the number of children without insurance to grow is both inhumane for our children and irresponsible for our society. Uninsured children are six times as likely as insured children to go without needed medication. Uninsured children are more likely to be treated in the emergency room than insured children. These children are showing up more and more in the emergency room to get basic primary care. The cost of providing this care only increases as their families are forced to delay care. We all pay when children go without health insurance coverage.

Mr. President, this is not just a question of saving money. Providing comprehensive, prevention-based health insurance to children is a sound investment. Delaying this care only adds to the overall cost of health care, education and our criminal justice system. This legislation that we are introducing puts our kids at the front of the line.

I urge my colleagues to join with us in support of this legislation. Let's send the right message to our states: If you do the right thing, you will no longer be denied your fair allocation. Instead, you will be rewarded for putting children first."