Democrats on a panel in the Iowa Senate have rejected a bill that would have kicked thousands of children out of the  state program that helps parents get insurance for free or at reduced cost. 

 The program’s called HAWK-I, pronounced like the word “hawkeye” and it stands for Healthy and Well Kids in Iowa. 

“Over the summer I’ve had 10 or more clients come to me and say, ‘Pull me off my private health care program because I want my kids to go on HAWK-I,” says Senator Randy Feenstra, a Republican from Hull who manages an insurance company. “And the reason, they say, is because HAWK-I gives better benefits.” 

Parents with an annual income up to 300 percent above the poverty level can sign their kids up for HAWK-I, and Feenstra says that means a family of four with an annual income of $66,000 can qualify. So, he co-sponsored a bill to cut the income eligibility level in half.

Democrats brought people into the statehouse to tell stories about the parents who currently get insurance coverage for their kids through the state program. Carrie Fitzgerald of the Iowa Child and Family Policy Center told legislators HAWK-I is helping many parents who’ve lost a job in the recession.

“What we know about those families anecdotally is that those are families who have dropped  down, who were at higher income levels,” Fitzgerald said. “Both parents were working; everything was going well; someone lost a job; someone lost (health care) coverage.”

Feenstra was offended by the parade of people Democrats brought in to tout the program.

“If they want to grandstand, I’ll grandstand and say, ‘Shame on government for putting out a program that is taking people out of the private sector and pushing then, almost forcing them into a government program,'” Feenstra said. 

According to Feenstra, he’s heard of mothers who’ve quit working so their children can qualify for insurance coverage through HAWK-I and he filed the bill to reduce income eligibility guidelines to make a statement.  Republicans in the House have no plans to try to pass Feenstra’s proposal.