WASHINGTON - Uncle Sam is rewarding Colorado for being a national leader in expanding health coverage for low-income children.
The Obama administration said Monday Colorado is getting a $58.5 million bonus - the nation's highest this year - for increasing the number of children on Medicaid and making it easier to sign them up for that federal-state program for low-income and disabled people, and the Children's Health Insurance Program, or CHIP.
Twenty-three states will share bonuses totaling $307 million handed out by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, or CMS.
Maryland got the second-highest amount - $43.5 million. North Dakota's $1.08 million was the smallest bonus this year.
States that expanded child enrollment in Medicaid beyond a certain threshold and took at least five of eight recommended steps to simplify the sign-up process were given the bonuses. Colorado fulfilled eight of those nine requirements.
"This performance bonus is the largest amount we have received to date," Sue Birch, executive director of the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy & Financing, said in a statement. "The performance bonus is evidence of the significant progress we have made in modernizing our eligibility and enrollment processes."
About 423,000 Colorado children were enrolled in Medicaid as of November. Another 68,000 children and pregnant women were enrolled in CHIP, called Children Health Plan Plus in Colorado. In fiscal 2009, when the Obama administration began handing out enrollment bonuses, Colorado had almost 419,000 children on Medicaid.
Gretchen Hammer, executive director of the Colorado Coalition for the Medically Underserved, praised the state for leading the nation in covering vulnerable kids.
"Getting kids covered - and keeping them covered - is essential to ensuring they grow up healthy and strong," she said in a statement. "Bipartisan leadership in Colorado has helped cut red tape to make Medicaid and CHP Plus work more efficiently and effectively. These investments are good for Colorado's families and our state's budget."
Colorado didn't get a bonus the first year it was offered, but has received one every year since -- $18.2 million in fiscal 2010, $32.9 million in 2011 and $47.5 million last year.
The bonuses are awarded under one of the first bills President Barack Obama signed into law in his first term. The awards are meant to reduce the cost of expanding coverage for children and encourage states to continue simplifying the enrollment process for Medicaid and CHIP.
Federal figures show the rate of uninsured children declined from 8.6 percent in 2009 to 7.5 percent by 2011.
"States are working hard to ensure children get access to the health coverage they need," CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner said in a statement. "We are pleased to provide financial support to reward states that are reducing enrollment barriers and are connecting kids to coverage."
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