HARRISBURG - Gov. Tom Corbett signed a bill Wednesday to extend a popular program that provides health insurance for children and eliminate a six-month waiting period that forced some children to go without health care before they could join.
Corbett's signature followed speedy approval by the Legislature to renew the Children's Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, through 2015. Children's advocates have criticized the six-month waiting period as a needlessly bureaucratic and complicated step that forced children to go uninsured, and Corbett made its elimination part of his effort to close the gap of an estimated 150,000 children in Pennsylvania who lack insurance.
"It sends a very clear, a very unmistakable message: In Pennsylvania, we take care of our own and we have the best CHIP program in the nation," Corbett said at a news conference while flanked by lawmakers and Roman Catholic schoolchildren from the Harrisburg area.
The 2-decade-old CHIP serves more than 188,000 children, according to state figures, and is available to uninsured children and teens who are not eligible for Medicaid. Depending on a family's income, it provides free, low-cost or at-cost coverage. At-cost premiums are $200 for families of four earning $70,600 or more a year, while families of four earning less than that would pay no more than $77 a month.
Since Corbett became governor in January 2011, the rolls of CHIP and Medicaid have shrunk by more than 77,000, according to the latest figures from the Department of Public Welfare. He also eliminated a state-subsidized health insurance program for about 40,000 lower-income adults called adultBasic in 2011 that was running out of money.
The waiting period being eliminated applied to children who qualify for the low-cost and at-cost CHIP programs, but not to the free CHIP program. The waiting period was a way to discourage parents or employers from dropping private insurance to enroll children in CHIP.
There were 206 children serving out the six-month waiting period, the Department of Insurance said Wednesday.
Corbett signed the bill a day after the Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania issued a report based on federal government data showing that the percentage of uninsured Pennsylvanians rose to 12 percent in 2012 from 10.8 percent in 2011, even as slightly more people nationally became insured over that period.
Pennsylvania, however, remained above the national average of 15.4 percent of the population uninsured, the hospital association said.
The percentage of Pennsylvanians covered by private, employer-based health insurance also dropped to below 60 percent, down from 66 percent a decade ago, the hospital association's report said.