HHS approves Arkansas plan to expand prenatal care to low-income pregnant women and their unborn children

HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson today approved a request by the state of Arkansas to expand prenatal care to low-income pregnant women and their unborn children under the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).

Arkansas is the seventh state to take advantage of an HHS regulation allowing them to provide prenatal services as an option under SCHIP. Arkansas will provide prenatal care to almost 1,000 pregnant women and their unborn children.

"Arkansas deserves credit for taking advantage of this option to expand prenatal care to low-income women and their unborn children," Secretary Thompson said. "Prenatal care for women and their babies is crucial to the health and well-being of both mother and child. By providing this coverage, we are ensuring that these children are given the best opportunity for a healthy life."

Under the regulations, states can now offer health coverage to pregnant women without having to request an SCHIP waiver. This allows states to implement the changes more quickly and expand coverage to pregnant women, whose children otherwise would be eligible for Medicaid or SCHIP coverage only after they are born.

Under its new plan, Arkansas will enroll pregnant women with family incomes up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level and who are otherwise not eligible for Medicaid, primarily because of their immigration status. The federal poverty level is $9,310 for an individual. Enrollees will receive a benefit package equal to the state's Medicaid program that includes prenatal care for the mother and her unborn child. After birth, children will be evaluated for eligibility in the Medicaid or SCHIP programs.

"I am pleased to endorse Arkansas' decision to expand coverage to this population," said Mark B. McClellan, M.D., Ph.D., administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). "As a physician, I recognize how critical prenatal care is for women and their babies."

SCHIP was enacted with bipartisan support in 1997 with total 10-year funding authorized at $40 billion. States receive a federal match of approximately 70 percent on all SCHIP expenditures. Although all states now operate SCHIP programs, substantial portions of the available funds are still unused. "President Bush and I are committed to doing everything we can to encourage states to use all their SCHIP funds to expand health coverage to low-income children and pregnant mothers in their states who otherwise would remain uninsured," Secretary Thompson said. "This prenatal care option provides a real opportunity for states to help more women and children who need reliable, quality health care."

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