Health coverage for 180K Pa. kids on the line as Congress ignores CHIP

Jason Addy
York Dispatch

Days after celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Children’s Health Insurance Program in Pennsylvania, advocates are again pleading with lawmakers in Washington, D.C., and Harrisburg to fund the program. 

Congress took no action to reauthorize funding for the federal program by the Sept. 30 deadline, leaving more than 180,000 Pennsylvania children at risk of losing their health insurance if lawmakers do not fund the program soon.

Teresa Miller, acting Secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, said state officials are trying to figure out how much money is still in the program and how far it can be stretched, but she warned that lawmakers are quickly running out of time to save CHIP.

“This program will no longer exist if Congress and the Pennsylvania General Assembly don’t take action,” Miller said, adding the state’s CHIP funding will only last into the first quarter of 2018.

More:176,000 Pennsylvania children's health care at risk as CHIP funding lapses

Stefaura Prince, 18, grimices as she and her brother Steven, 17 from Haiti, receive back-to-school vaccinations from community health nurses Debbie Stoops, left, and Eva Walker at the City of York Bureau of Health, Monday, August 15, 2016. The Bureau of Health will hold another free back-to-school vaccine clinic Wednesday, August 31, 9:30 6:30 p.m. Vaccines are free for York City residents, uninsured or underinsured and children on Medicaid. Zoster (shingles) vaccines are FREE to City residents 50 years of age or older and are uninsured or underinsured.  John A. Pavoncello photo

Without a reauthorization of funding, Miller said, she will soon have to begin sending out notifications telling CHIP parents the program is about to end.

“There’s a draft of a letter informing thousands of Pennsylvania parents that their kids might lose their health coverage after the holidays that’s sitting on my desk,” Miller said. “I am hoping that I never have to send that letter."

Miller called CHIP the “poster child of bipartisanship” and one of the few programs left that almost all lawmakers agree on.

Forced to choose: Signed into law in 1992, Pennsylvania’s CHIP program served as the model for the federal CHIP program, which has existed since 1997. CHIP provides free or low-cost health insurance options for children in families who earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid but do not have access to health coverage through other means. 

A family of four with an income of up to $51,168 can receive free CHIP insurance for their children, while a family of four with an income of up to $77,244 qualifies for low-cost CHIP insurance, according to the state Department of Human Services.

Todd Wolynn, CEO of Kids Plus Pediatrics in Pittsburgh, said he has spoken to many CHIP families who have told him they’d be forced to choose between paying the copay for a routine checkup or paying for groceries, rent and other monthly bills.

“Where are we with health care that we’re asking families to make this decision?” Wolynn said.

Since CHIP funding lapsed at the end of September, federal lawmakers have passed the biggest rewrite of the tax system in decades and continued their efforts to change the structure of the health care industry without touching CHIP reauthorization.

“It seems like a set of misaligned priorities that children and families are unduly waiting and worrying about whether or not their health care needs will be met,” said Joan Benso, president and CEO of Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children.