NU Online News Service, June 11, 2004, 3:03 p.m. EDT – Federal officials have approved a plan to open California’s Children’s Health Insurance Program to some families that have incomes that are 3 times as high as the federal poverty level.[@@]

The change will affect children up to age 19 who live in 4 extremely expensive California counties: Alameda, San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties.

The change means that a family of 4 living in San Francisco could earn as much as $56,550 a year and still qualify to buy subsidized CHIP coverage. In the past, the CHIP income limit in the 4 counties was 250% of the federal poverty level.

California also will raise the CHIP income limit to 300% of the federal poverty level throughout the state for children up to age 2 whose mothers are enrolled in a state health insurance program aimed at infants, pregnant women and mothers of infants.

For most children in most parts of California, the family eligibility income limit will still be 250% of the federal poverty level, according to officials at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

California officials hope the income limit increase in the 4 extremely expensive counties will help them enroll 33,000 more children in the state’s CHIP health plan.

The federal government developed CHIP to help children of uninsured residents who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but too little to pay for conventional private health insurance. Each state runs its own children’s health program, but the federal government helps fund and regulate the programs.

Some critics in the insurance industry have praised the goal of expanding access to health coverage for moderate-income children but worried about the possibility that availability of CHIP coverage might encourage employers to stop offering health benefits for workers’ children.