More than a year ago healthcare advocates were criticizing the state for increasing premiums and allowing low-income children to drop out of the state’s health insurance program, but this year the state is receiving a $5.2 million performance bonus from the Obama administration for enrolling more children in the program.

It’s the first time the state has qualified the bonus, which is funded under the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act. In Connecticut the program is just called HUSKY.

“More of Connecticut’s children now have the advantages health coverage provides,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said. “And Connecticut parents now have the security of knowing their children can get the health care they need without worrying that an illness could leave them with a lifetime of medical bills.”

The state failed to qualify for the bonuses in previous years, however recent efforts to streamline the enrollment process have made it easier for families to register children in the programs and retain health insurance coverage.

Face-to-face interviews, “which can be especially difficult for working parents” are no longer required for enrollment and parents can use the same forms to register for both programs, a statement from the White House said.

Another policy change called presumptive eligibility allows children who are screened for eligibility to receive health care before they are formally accepted into the program.

Recent 2010 data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows the number of uninsured children in Connecticut was 6 percent, which is much lower than the national average of 9.8 percent.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said the award is a reflection of the hard work of state and federal employees as well as advocates and health care workers.

“Many dedicated people throughout Connecticut, and in particular Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman, have worked tirelessly over the years to make our HUSKY program one of the best in the nation,” Malloy said. 

“It was Nancy’s work when she was the state comptroller that that got the ball rolling to create HUSKY in the first place.  This performance bonus award recognizes these tremendous efforts, while encouraging us to continue the hard work necessary to move the program forward,” he added.

Wyman said she was proud that HHS had recognized the state’s work to ensure more children have access to health care.

“The idea that a child would be denied health care because of their parents’ income is simply unacceptable,” she said.

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Directer Cindy Mann said Connecticut demonstrated a significant increase in child enrollment in Medicaid over the fiscal year.

“CMS commends your ongoing efforts to enroll children in health insurance coverage programs and commitment to a simplified and family-friendly enrollment and renewal process,” she said in a letter to the state Department of Social Services.

The state was one of 23 to be awarded performance bonuses this year, which totaled $296 million nationwide. The bonuses are designed to help offset the costs states incur when they enroll low-income children in Medicaid, the statement said.