The 2004 Federal Poverty Guidelines were recently released, increasing the amount a family can earn and still qualify for essential public services. Such services include free or reduced lunches for school children, food stamps, and public health care, among others.

Under the new guidelines, children in a family of four, with a gross monthly income of $2,906, which is 185 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), qualify for the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), a comprehensive public health care program with no premiums or co-pays. This is an increase over the 2003 FPL when the income level for a family of four was $2,837.

According to Glenna Awbrey, Union & Wallowa County Covering Kids & Families Health Insurance Coordinator, "In January, there were 668 individuals in Wallowa County covered under the Oregon Health Plan (OHP) and 30 children covered under SCHIP. However, there were also 1,180 uninsured individuals in the county (16.5 percent of the population) . Unfortunately, many people are unaware that there are several health insurance programs which are available to individuals with income levels at, or below 185 percent FPL, and many children qualify for free health care".

Basic conditions for SCHIP coverage for children include a cap of $5,000 in liquid assets (cash in the bank), with family income being averaged over a four-month period. Enrollment is for six months at a time and re-enrollment is necessary to continue coverage.

The Family Health Insurance Assistance Program (FHIAP) is also available for workers and their dependents, through employers who offer group insurance. Premium subsidies are available for working adults and their families with incomes less than 185 percent FPL. Assistance can range up to 95 percent coverage of employee premiums. FHIAP has a liquid asset cap of $10,000, and enrollment is for one year at a time.

• To request an application for the Oregon Health Plan or the State Children's Health Insurance Program, call 1-800-359-9517.

• For workers with dependents with access to employer group health coverage who wish to enroll in FHIAP, call toll-free 1-888-564-9669 for an application.

• To receive assistance with completing the application or if you have questions, call locally - Building Healthy Families at 426-9411, or the Wallowa County Health Dept at 426-4848. Additional information is also available through the Oregon Health Helpline toll-free at 1-866-458-4457, or Glenna Awbrey at Covering Kids & Families at 541 962-3933.

Covering Kids & Families is a national initiative, spearheaded by the Robert Wood Jonson Foundation, with the primary goal of ensuring that eligible, uninsured children and families are enrolled in Oregon's public health care programs.

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